Here are the words they used for health care reform (or the buzzwords their consultants told them to use): "Secret"! "Backroom"! "Behind closed doors"! "Dealing"! Or, as one especially unsubtle pol put it, "secret back room dealing"! These right-wing politicians and activists had a zeal for open government when they demanded that the House and Senate reconcile their health care reform bills in public. Let's hope they show the same dedication to transparency now that financial reform's on the table. The House and Senate negotiations should be broadcast on live television, and conservatives should join the call to demand it.
Maybe we'll even get Glenn Beck to join us. (Hey, it could happen.)
(UPDATE: John Boehner's on board. He sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking that the conference be broacast on CNN and streamed on the internet. More here, along with new information and some thoughts on how tech could be used to provide even more value.)
This is a critical time: Bank are spending big bucks to influence the outcome of the House/Senate conference. As the head of the American Bankers Association put it, "We are going to have to try and clean up as much of this as we can" during the conference process. And if there's one thing banks know how to do, it's "clean up" -- at your expense.
Why shouldn't the American people be able to observe their representatives as they negotiate this critical issue? That's why we're supporting a call by Chairman Barney Frank of the House Financial Services Committee to televise this conference. It's predictable for progressives to fight the bank lobby, so it shouldn't be a surprise when they support a televised conference (which they should). But conservatives who support open government should demand it, too. It's the perfect time to forge a bipartisan consensus: Let's debate the people's business on CSPAN and the Internet for everyone to see.
During the health care debate, some GOP representatives sponsored the so-called "Sunshine Resolution" to demand transparency in reconciling the House and Senate bills. House Resolution 847 read as follows: "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that any conference committee or other meetings held to determine the content of national health care legislation be conducted in public under the watchful eye of the people of the United States."
Sunshine is exactly what's needed now. Politico reports that "the conference committee offers the last opportunity for the banking industry to influence the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's financial regulatory system since the Great Depression, setting up a massive behind-the-scenes lobbying effort to influence the bill."
The best cure for "back room dealing" is public exposure. Legislators become notably more reluctant to push banking interests when they're exposed to the antiseptic glare of television lights. There will be critical efforts to weaken some of the stronger reform provisions in the conference, and some Republican behavior over the last week -- defending auto dealers, usurious payday lenders, and other special banking interests -- suggests that visibility might be the last thing on earth they'll want. But Republicans staked a claim for transparency, too, during health reform. Now they can do it again and really make a difference.
Cynics will claim that Republican calls for sunshine will be hard to find this time around -- especially since, as the Huffington Post reports, some of their leaders spent most of the last week shafting American consumers by blocking anti-bank amendments and "running out the clock" in an attempt to weaken reform. Let's hope that isn't the case. Other conservatives and Republicans have proved willing to fight the big banks ... especially when deliberations take place in public. By backing a televised conference, these conservatives can demonstrate their independence from the Wall Street money machine. They'll be showing ideological consistency, too.
Chairman Frank appeared to soften his position somewhat yesterday, according to Politico, saying that "The negotiations will go on in private, but the results of any discussion are going to have to be voted on." A strong show of bipartisan support should help him stick to his guns: As Politico described his plans in March, " House and Senate negotiators would debate the points of disagreement between the two chambers, voting point-by-point in open session." That's exactly how it should be done. If Rep. Frank is softening his tone because of Republican resistance, these conservative voices can help him accomplish his original goal:
Rep. Michelle Bachmann: During the health care debate Rep. Bachmann claimed that "we want no backroom deals, no political favoritism, no doing a bill behind closed doors." And on Glenn Beck's show, no less!
It would be a powerful blow for openness if Rep. Bachmann went on Beck's show and repeated those words, this time demanding that the American people see what's being done in their name. And is it too much to expect Glenn Beck's support, too? Some will say we're getting a little carried away now, but Beck's said some surprisingly reasonable things lately. His support would be welcome -- and pivotal.
Rep. Steve King: Rep. King said that President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Reid now "command America as a ruling troika," adding: "The Troika, operating with the secrecy of the KGB, is drafting and crafting a socialized medicine plan designed to get the minimum number of votes."
The KGB operated in darkness. Soviet troikas ruled behind iron barricades. We hope that Rep. King will join the call for a televised conference.
House Minority Leader John Boehner: Rep. Boehner complained about the health reform conference process, saying that the bill "is being written in secret ... even though the President ... made clear these negotiations ought to be out in public." Rep. Boehner, as a member of the GOP House leadership, will be a powerful voice for transparency on financial reform. We expect his announcement of support momentarily.
Sen. Tom Coburn: Sen. Coburn said of health reform that the "bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve ... was filled with backroom deals." He also claimed that the bill preserved the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback" when it actually removed it.
American Future Fund: This group is not to be confused with the Campaign For America's Future, where I am a Fellow (and whose June 7-9 conference will address this and other issues: we'll be there, so we gotta plug that!) The Iowa Independent describes the American Future Fund as a "secretive group" (hey -- I thought "secret" was bad) who individually and collectively have done charming things like run the Willie Horton ad. They've organized themselves as a nonaligned organization for IRS purposes, yet the group's comprised of Republican operatives and spends all its time and money opposing Democratic candidates.
The American Future Fund "lipstick" ad against health reform was filled with factual misstatements. Another ad of theirs, "Backroom," made claims that FactCheck.org called "absurd." one of those "absurd" charges was this: "Liberals are crafting a secret health care bill behind closed doors."
However false that particular charge, it's only reasonable to assume that the Fund abhors "crafting a bill behind closed doors." We therefore expect and welcome the American Future Fund's immediate demand that these hearings be televised. To do any less would be hypocritical, so ... thanks in advance, guys!
Will any of these people actually join the call for a televised conference? It's hard to say -- but they should certainly be asked. The conference should be televised, and a bipartisan movement would be the best way to make sure that happens. In the meantime, here's what concerned people on both sides of the aisle can do:
Call the offices of Majority Leader Harry Reid (202-224-3542) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (202-225-0100). And/or call Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (202-224-2541) and House Minority leader John Boehner (202-225-0704).
You can also contact Sen. Dodd, head of the Senate Banking Committee (202-224-2823), his GOP counterpart Sen. Richard Shelby (202-224-5744), and Chairman Frank (202-225-5931). Members of the Senate Committee can be found here, while House Committee members are here. If your Senator or Representative is among them, reach out to them too.
It's time for to open up the deliberations. The best way to fight a "shadow banking system" is with sunlight.
(Thanks to Media Matters for providing research assistance.)
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.
He can be reached at "email@example.com."
Website: Eskow and Associates