Earlier this week, we told you about the way that Democratic leaders in Congress plan to use an obscure legislative tactic known as "ping-pong" to bounce the health care reform bill back and forth between the House and the Senate to reconcile their differences. Their goal is to keep the final negotiations between House and Senate leadership (along with the White House), and avoid Republican input and likely delaying tactics. The White House, though, is now catching heat because many see this process as a direct betrayal of 's oft-repeated promise to broadcast these negotiations live on television.
On Tuesday, Brian Lamb, the CEO of C-SPAN - the political television network that shows full coverage of policymaking in Washington, D.C. - sent a letter to the and leaders in Congress imploring them to allow the health care bill's final negotiations to be broadcast live and in their entirety on his network. Saying that C-SPAN would use the most advanced technology available in order to be "as unobtrusive as possible," Lamb wrote:
President Obama, Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-file members, and the nation's editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the nation's health care system. Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.
Prominent Republicans were quick to praise Lamb for putting the White House on the spot. Saying that "secret deliberations" were a "breeding ground" for "shady deals," closed doors."said that he and his fellow House Republicans "strongly endorse" Lamb's proposal. He added, "Hard-working families won't stand for having the future of their health care decided behind
Not helping to calm the brewing storm is the fact that the White House has been evasive in responding to Lamb's letter. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday flatly refused to comment on the letter, claiming he had yet to have the opportunity to read it. When he returned to face the press corps on Wednesday, Gibbs said little more than that the president was doing everything he could to get a bill on his desk "as quickly as possible." He blew off persistent questioning on the matter by referring reporters to the transcript from the previous day's exchange, leading one pundit to term the whole thing a "rough day for transparency at ."
But some are defending the White House by saying that holding the negotiations behind closed doors is simply a necessary evil for getting a bill passed in the current political environment. Commentary's John Steele Gordon contends that Obama's main sin in the matter is not breaking the promise of open negotiations, but making such a promise in the first place, something he called a "dumb political move":
Real negotiations - as opposed to questioning witnesses and debating on the floor - are never held in public. If they were, political opponents and lobbyists would be hanging on every word. The give and take, the thinking out loud, the tentative suggestions, the horse-trading that are so much a part of any negotiation would be impossible when every casual phrase, recorded on's camcorders, might be turned into an attack ad for the next election.
On Tuesday, Pelosi responded with a sarcastic "Really?!" before breaking out into laughter. She then added, "There are a number of things he was for on the campaign trail." Pelosi's implication appeared clear: Sometimes in politics, remaining true to promises is much harder than actually making them.emerged from a meeting to face a throng of reporters who were quick to question her about Obama's broken campaign promise.