Barack Obama, Brian Lamb
Barack Obama made a campaign promise in January 2008 that a debate on health care legislation would include "bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are."
Now C-SPAN is seeking permission to offer live TV coverage of the final discussions over the health-care bill.
But as Democrats enter talks on the separate versions of the legislation passed by the House and Senate, they're hesitant to allow C-SPAN's cameras to air the proceedings. Republicans say Democrats are backing away from Obama's pledge of transparency.
But Democrats' efforts to work out a compromise behind closed doors may be about avoiding Republican interference, not cameras. Holding the debate in the congressional chambers would not only open it up to cameras, but expose the legislation to a filibuster by the minority party.
C-SPAN chief Brian Lamb made the request to congressional leaders Dec. 30. He released the letter Tuesday after it appeared on Politico.com.
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Lamb told The New York Times that C-SPAN had been able to cover final negotiations on most bills, except for those involving appropriations. He said he wrote the letter because C-SPAN had already covered hundreds of hours of debate on health care, and he wanted to make sure that leaders knew C-SPAN was interested in following the issue to the end.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office released a statement saying Senate Democrats are "committed to transparency in the legislative process," but it did not specifically respond to Lamb's request. Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, told TVGuide.com Wednesday that he had nothing to add to the statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the reminder of Obama's campaign promise by simply saying: "There are a number of things he swore on the campaign trail."
House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a statement: "C-SPAN's role in fostering government transparency is so significant that on several occasions during the last presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged that health care reform negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN so 'the American people will know what's going on.'"
Should Americans be able to watch the debate on C-SPAN?