The health care debate resumes today, and the big news is that Democrats have opted to cut Republicans out of the negotiating process, a move intended to keep GOP legislators from forcing unpleasant votes or using procedural delaying measures.
Meanwhile, the CEO of C-SPAN has written a letter to House and Senate leadership urging them to allow C-SPAN cameras into the House/Senate negotiations. There's no official word from Congressional leadership, but judging from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' question dodging when asked about televising negotiations, it's unlikely to happen.
Now, this isn't terribly surprising — legislative negotiations are typically held behind closed doors — but it's pretty disappointing for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, secrecy makes the legislative sausage-making process even uglier. Without public scrutiny, politicians just aren't going to be as accountable. Democrats pay lip service to this idea all the time — the C-SPAN letter notes that "Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-files members, and the nation's editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming health care." Obama has declared that his administration "is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government."
But as important, I think, is that without reporters and recorders in the room, we'll miss out on the historical record, which is both useful (in terms of understanding the legislative process) and interesting (as political narrative). That's important for any bill, and it's especially true with a bill of this size and this sort of transformational impact. When future generations — or, hell, current generations — ask how we got the system we have, we'll be able to tell part of the story, but when it comes to the end, we'll simply have to speculate, or shrug our shoulders in confusion, as crucial details from the final days of negotiating will be missing.