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GOP Jumps on C-SPAN Request to Televise Health Care Negotiations

Updated: Jan. 5, 6 p.m.

C-SPAN’s request to televise the health care negotiations has prompted Republicans to renew charges that Democratic leaders are writing the overhaul in secret to hide a slew of backroom deals.

In a Dec. 30 letter to Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders, C-SPAN Chairman and CEO Brian Lamb asked that “all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings— to reconcile the House and Senate health care reform bills, be open to electronic media coverage.

Republican leaders, who have opposed the health care reform effort from the outset and are likely to be excluded from any cross-chamber negotiations on the final product, immediately endorsed the request. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have decided to bypass a formal conference committee in favor of leadership-level talks.

“I challenge all fellow open government advocates, including President Obama who promised that transparency would be a ‘touchstone’ of his administration, to join me in supporting C-SPAN’s request to cover further meetings related to the Senate and House health care bills,— National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said in a statement Tuesday. “My Republican colleagues and the American people have been largely shut out of the health care reform proceedings thus far, as Democrat Leaders packaged their health care bills behind closed doors and layered them with billions of dollars in sweetheart deals to woo undecided Democrats.—

In a statement released Tuesday evening, Reid’s chief spokesman Jim Manley asserted that it was the Republicans who are less than transparent. As expected, C-SPAN’s request for television cameras at the negotiating table was rebuffed.

“Senator Reid appreciates C-SPAN’s commitment to ensuring transparency and we will continue to work to ensure that the American people have access to the work of their elected representatives. The drafting of this health insurance reform bill has set new standards for transparency. As the C-SPAN letter states, there have been ‘literally hundreds of hours of committee hearings, mark ups and floor debate on these bills’ — and every one of those hours was broadcast across the country,— Manley said. “But what should truly concern the American people is the Republicans’ shamelessly transparent strategy to stop reform at all costs by relying on misinformation and myths. Their ploys are broadcast on C-SPAN for all of America to see, as much of it happens on the Senate floor.—

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama — then a Senator — vowed several times to televise any health care reform negotiations on C-SPAN, which broadcasts House and Senate floor debates, as well as committee hearings and other government events.

“I’m going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We’ll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies — they’ll get a seat at the table, they just won’t be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, we’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN,— Obama said on Aug. 21, 2008, while campaigning during a town hall meeting in Chester, Va., “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. And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process.—

Legislative negotiations are rarely — if ever — conducted in public.

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