The Center for American Progress' Wonk Room offers a case for not allowing C-SPAN cameras into the House-Senate health care negotiations. But I still don't buy it.
The short version of the argument is that C-SPAN's coverage would put pressure on legislators to perform for the cameras and thus make the bill worse:
C-SPAN is grounded in the belief that transparency produces superior legislation. And maybe a certain level of transparency does. But if one actually considers the tone and tenor of the televised health care debate of 2009, filming the conference negotiations seems counterproductive.
…On the whole, C-SPAN's coverage informed and entertained the viewer. But did it improve the underlying bill?
The post suggests pretty strongly that the answer is no. But how you answer this last question depends quite a bit on what you mean when you say "improved." If you asked me, I'd say that anything in the health care bill that increased individual control and responsibility for their health care improved it. But when anyone at CAP asks whether something has been "improved", I think it's fair to say that what they're asking is whether it made the bill more progressive — ie: does it cover more people, spread costs across a greater share of the population, offer larger subsidies for care, and move more power away from private enterprise and toward centralized government authority. The implicit argument here is that not filming the negotiations will push the bill in a more progressive direction. I agree, but I think that's a bad thing. And I also think that as excuses go, shutting out C-SPAN and other media because doing so would limit opposition to the progressive agenda is pretty weak.
There's also something to be said for the argument that even if Democrats allowed C-SPAN to film some of the discussions, much of the real negotiations — the conversations in which legislators actually hash out the details of the deals — are going to happen behind closed doors anyway. To some extent, I'm sure that's true. But even the most self-aware, for-the-cameras political performance is going to air more of the debates and information than what we're getting now, which is zilch.
But how about this for a reason to be annoyed with the refusal to air the debates: It's a blatant reversal from the president. On the campaign trail, Obama promised these negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN. Repeatedly.
Now, Obama's not shown any particular concern about breaking campaign pledges when it comes to health care, so I guess it's not all that surprising that he'd break this one too. But it's more than reasonable to hold him to account for this sort of thing, especially when the only excuse for doing so that Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs can come up with is that, uh, well, the White House really wants to move the bill through quickly, thankyounextquestionanybody. As The Cato Institute's Will Wilkinson recently argued, the Democrats increasingly "seem interested primarily in how a temporary majority can do more, faster, now." Shutting out C-SPAN is about avoiding accountability in order to speed up the Democratic agenda. And when time is of the essence, I suppose you just can't be bothered to deal with pesky annoyances like political opposition, or public scrutiny.