Would C-SPAN Make The Healthcare Bill “Worse”? Define Worse.
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.
I don’t think it’s fair to say that CAP is asking whether it made the bill more or less progressive. There are multiple definitions of “worse”, and Suderman is projecting his definition of worse vs. improved onto CAP.
I think a more fair question, particularly when political grandstanding is involved, is this:
Does C-SPAN televising the debate make it easier or harder for Congress to write a bill accomplishing its objectives with a minimum of bad elements?
There are a lot of ways to define “bad elements”. Peter Suderman and I would say that a public option or an individual mandate are bad elements. CAP would probably say that these are desired elements and dropping the subsidies from 400% to 300% or the Stupak amendment are bad elements. All involved would probably say that greasing the wheels of Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieux are bad elements.
The uncharitable way to read CAP’s question is to suggest that getting the debate out in front of voters, news media and bloggers prior to reaching a final bill gets the debate out of Congress and into public opinion, where voters might object to necessary provisions or add bad elements through the political process. But the charitable way to read this is that televising the debates on C-SPAN leads to overt politicization and a necessarily “worse” bill by addition of things that both Democrats and Republicans would consider bad elements. Whether policy is good or bad is not defined by its public popularity.
I like the idea of C-SPAN televising the negotiations, but not because I think they’ll improve the bill. Frankly, I think greater public awareness and pressure might lead to a further public opinion shift against the bill and potentially damage it before the votes come back to House & Senate on the compromise legislation. Any damage to this intrusion of government on freedom that I can get, I’ll take. But I don’t think televising the debates will in any way improve the bill. As the wonk room states:
Turning the conference committee into another Senate floor debate won’t improve health reform legislation. The televised conference hearings will become a drawn out theatrical sideshow — the real discussions will still occur behind closed doors.
They’ll just give a bunch of Congressional blowhards a forum to grandstand, and provide fodder for cable news and the blogosphere to excoriate them in public. Great fun, mind you, but since all the substantive negotiation occurs off-camera anyway, it’s not exactly useful.