C-SPAN to Congress: Let Us In!

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


 When President Barack Obama was campaigning for the job in 2008, he vowed that he would bring greater transparency to government—especially when it comes to health care reform legislation:

We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.

Now C-SPAN is asking precisely for that. Its CEO, Brain Lamb, has sent a letter to House and Senate leaders, requesting that his network be permitted to broadcast the final negotiations, as the two chambers work out the differences between each body’s version of the legislation:

As your respective chambers work to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate health care bills, C-SPAN requests that you open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage.

The C-SPAN networks will commit the necessary resources to covering all of these sessions LIVE and in their entirety. We will also, as we willingly do each day, provide C-SPAN’s multi-camera coverage to any interested member of the Capitol Hill broadcast pool. 

The proceedings of conference committees—the House-Senate gatherings that merge and finesse different bills into a final measure—usually occur behind closed doors. And The New Republic has reported that the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate have decided in this case to skip a conference committee and hold informal negotiations instead, in order to avoid legislative procedures that Senate Republicans could use to stall the deliberations. That would make the process even more secretive. Yet Lamb argues:

President Obama, Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-file members, and the nation’s editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the nation’s health care system. Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.

He has a point. But Lamb shouldn’t expect Obama to lean on his fellow Dems in Congress to grant C-SPAN its wish. Last July, Obama was asked about his campaign pledge:

Q: You promised that health care negotiations would take place on C-SPAN and that hasn’t happened….Are you fulfilling your promise of transparency in the White House?

He replied:

With respect to all the negotiations not being on C-SPAN, you will recall in this very room that our kick-off event was here on C-SPAN. And at a certain point, you know, you start getting into all kinds of different meetings. The Senate Finance Committee is having a meeting. The House is having a meeting. If they want those to be on C-SPAN, then I would welcome it. I don’t think there are a lot of secrets going on in there.

That was a dodgy answer. Obama’s “kick-off event” was not part of the negotiations. And there are always “secrets” when legislators come together in private to slice and dice the sausage. Lamb is right to press Congress to show citizens how this important bill is being finalized. But he sure shouldn’t count on filling any programming holes with broadcasts of these proceedings. 

You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

WE'LL BE BLUNT.

We have a considerable $390,000 gap in our online fundraising budget that we have to close by June 30. There is no wiggle room, we've already cut everything we can, and we urgently need more readers to pitch in—especially from this specific blurb you're reading right now.

We'll also be quite transparent and level-headed with you about this.

In "News Never Pays," our fearless CEO, Monika Bauerlein, connects the dots on several concerning media trends that, taken together, expose the fallacy behind the tragic state of journalism right now: That the marketplace will take care of providing the free and independent press citizens in a democracy need, and the Next New Thing to invest millions in will fix the problem. Bottom line: Journalism that serves the people needs the support of the people. That's the Next New Thing.

And it's what MoJo and our community of readers have been doing for 47 years now.

But staying afloat is harder than ever.

In "This Is Not a Crisis. It's The New Normal," we explain, as matter-of-factly as we can, what exactly our finances look like, why this moment is particularly urgent, and how we can best communicate that without screaming OMG PLEASE HELP over and over. We also touch on our history and how our nonprofit model makes Mother Jones different than most of the news out there: Letting us go deep, focus on underreported beats, and bring unique perspectives to the day's news.

You're here for reporting like that, not fundraising, but one cannot exist without the other, and it's vitally important that we hit our intimidating $390,000 number in online donations by June 30.

And we hope you might consider pitching in before moving on to whatever it is you're about to do next. It's going to be a nail-biter, and we really need to see donations from this specific ask coming in strong if we're going to get there.

payment methods

WE'LL BE BLUNT.

We have a considerable $390,000 gap in our online fundraising budget that we have to close by June 30. There is no wiggle room, we've already cut everything we can, and we urgently need more readers to pitch in—especially from this specific blurb you're reading right now.

We'll also be quite transparent and level-headed with you about this.

In "News Never Pays," our fearless CEO, Monika Bauerlein, connects the dots on several concerning media trends that, taken together, expose the fallacy behind the tragic state of journalism right now: That the marketplace will take care of providing the free and independent press citizens in a democracy need, and the Next New Thing to invest millions in will fix the problem. Bottom line: Journalism that serves the people needs the support of the people. That's the Next New Thing.

And it's what MoJo and our community of readers have been doing for 47 years now.

But staying afloat is harder than ever.

In "This Is Not a Crisis. It's The New Normal," we explain, as matter-of-factly as we can, what exactly our finances look like, why this moment is particularly urgent, and how we can best communicate that without screaming OMG PLEASE HELP over and over. We also touch on our history and how our nonprofit model makes Mother Jones different than most of the news out there: Letting us go deep, focus on underreported beats, and bring unique perspectives to the day's news.

You're here for reporting like that, not fundraising, but one cannot exist without the other, and it's vitally important that we hit our intimidating $390,000 number in online donations by June 30.

And we hope you might consider pitching in before moving on to whatever it is you're about to do next. It's going to be a nail-biter, and we really need to see donations from this specific ask coming in strong if we're going to get there.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate