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GOP slams Democrats over public access to health reform talks

Republican lawmakers back C-SPAN's request for televised health reform negotiations between the House and Senate.

By Chris Silva — Posted Jan. 25, 2010

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The public-service cable channel that covers Congress called on Democratic leaders late last month to allow cameras into the room to televise negotiations over the Senate- and House-approved health reform bills, a call that Republican lawmakers echoed with increasing volume in the opening weeks of the new year.

C-SPAN on Dec. 30, 2009, sent a letter to the leaders of both major political parties requesting that the House and Senate "open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage." C-SPAN Chair and CEO Brian Lamb noted how President Obama and leaders of both chambers have discussed the value of transparency as they try to pass a consensus reform package.

"We respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American," Lamb stated.

GOP lawmakers immediately backed C-SPAN's position and continued to hammer Democrats on the point when it became apparent C-SPAN was not going to receive a direct response to its request.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R, Fla.) introduced the "Sunshine Resolution" to require "that all final negotiations on the health care reform bill be conducted under the watchful eye of the American people." Buchanan filed a discharge petition on Jan. 12 in an attempt to force a House vote on his proposal.

"With so much at stake, any conference committee or meetings held to determine the content of sweeping national health care legislation should be held in full public view, not behind closed doors," Buchanan said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R, Ohio) suggested that a rejection of the TV request would represent a broken pledge from congressional Democrats and Obama, who during the 2008 campaign stated repeatedly that health care negotiations would be on C-SPAN.

"Hardworking families won't stand for having the future of their health care decided behind closed doors," Boehner said. "These secret deliberations are a breeding ground for more of the kickbacks, shady deals and special-interest provisions that have become business as usual in Washington."

Rep. Bill Cassidy, MD (R, La.), said if Democratic leaders really believed that their version of health reform would improve care and lower costs, they would jump at the chance to televise the talks. "By hiding behind closed doors, they are effectively asking the American people to swallow a bottle of pills now and read the label later."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D, Md.), assistant to the House speaker and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, responded to the controversy by noting that health reform "has been subjected to an unprecedented degree of public scrutiny and input." During the summer of 2009, for example, thousands of town hall meetings on the subject occurred throughout the country.

When asked specifically on Jan. 5 whether C-SPAN cameras would be allowed in the room when the Senate and House bills were reconciled, Van Hollen said, "we don't even know yet whether there is going to be a conference." Democratic leaders indicated after the passage of the measures that they might entrust a select group of lawmakers in their party to iron out the differences rather than convene a formal conference committee, a process which would open the bills up to additional procedural motions.

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