Let The Cameras Roll

Our guest blogger is John D. Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

PiccspanMy colleagues Igor Volsky and Matt Yglesias have eloquently argued on ThinkProgress that C-Span’s cameras should not be allowed to film the final negotiations between the House and Senate as they hammer out health care legislation that President Obama will soon sign into law. While I respect their arguments, I take a very different view. I have long believed that openness and transparency are essential bedrock measures for ensuring public accountability of our government. Letting C-Span cameras into health care conference meetings will keep negotiators honest, give the public an opportunity for input, and allow the process to be more collaborative.

Open government and citizen access to information is a first principle of liberty in a democracy that has to be defended — even when it’s unpopular or deemed unhelpful in the short term. It is my experience that corruption in government begins at the moment when officials in power believe no one is paying attention. The scrutiny of traditional journalists, citizen journalists, and other interested Americans serves as a powerful disinfectant for our legislative process and restores confidence in our participatory democracy.

Critics have argued that the presence of cameras is likely to produce political posturing and grandstanding by politicians. And indeed, with the cameras rolling, Republicans have said health care reform is a bigger threat than terrorism, claimed that seniors would be told to “drop dead,” and even called the President a liar. But I’m glad cameras were there to capture those demeaning comments. They have helped all Americans gain a better understanding of the unwillingness of some on the right to engage in a rational debate.

The presence of cameras has also produced some beneficial outcomes. For instance, C-Span cameras exposed House GOP efforts to silence members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus when they tried to speak on the floor. The cameras also shamed Senate Republicans when they tried to filibuster the debate by forcing the reading of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer amendment.

Democrats have nothing to fear from an open debate. They are working to expand affordable coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans, lowering premiums, ending the insurance industry’s denial of pre-existing conditions, and ensuring women will no longer be charged much more for the same coverage as men. When the House and Senate meet in the coming weeks to discuss this historic legislation, I would humbly urge them to let the cameras roll. We can handle the truth.

Members of Congress should not forget that they are representing actual Americans who stand to be either benefited or harmed by the choices they make. It’s my view that if the American people are allowed to bear witness to the conference negotiations, the most important health care reform in decades will be stronger for it. And the American public will rightly feel that they helped bring it about.