THE BLOG

Boehner's On Board: Momentum Builds to Televise the Conference

05/22/2010 12:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Momentum is building for putting a historic conference between the House and Senate online and on live television, as they debate the future of financial reform. This is the time to contact Senators and Representatives to support this critical step toward open government - and a stronger, fairer, safer economy.

Yesterday we asked conservatives to join with progressives in calling for the House/Senate financial reform conference to be broadcast on live television. We pointed out that this would be consistent with the spirit of the GOP's "Sunlight Resolution," and with a number of conservative calls to avoid "backroom" deals as health reform was being finalized. We also pointed out that a broadcast of this kind would weaken the influence of bank lobbyists, which means we're likely to get better legislation.

House Minority Leader John Boehner is now on board. He said this in a letter written to Nancy Pelosi yesterday: "(C)onsistent with the new House initiative of live streaming video of House floor proceedings, we believe the conference debate should include live webcasting so even more Americans can engage in the debate ..."

Barney Frank, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said back in March that he wants to televise the conference. His remarks this week were slightly more equivocal, as we reported in our earlier piece. There's no need to equivocate out of concern for the GOP, however, if Boehner supports the idea. And on the Senate side, Republican Senators Shelby and Corker have now both expressed support: "That'd be great," Corker told Talking Points Memo yesterday. "Sure." As TPM reports, the weakest expression of support came from Democratic Sen. Dodd: "I have no opposition to it," he said.

Boehner's letter (pdf) contained a number of partisan jabs against Democrats and the health reform process, but hit several of the right notes: "The financial system is the lifeblood of our economy," it began, concluding: "Republicans support bringing sunshine to the legislative process. As Chairman Frank said, we should have members of the House and Senate, Majority and Minority sitting in a public forum with C-SPAN coverage ... (that) should include live webcasting."

He's right. And there's no need to stop there. With just a little imagination, we have the opportunity to use technology to open government up in some of exciting ways. We can record and segment video of the live webcast so that it can be indexed and searched by subject, and so can be cross-linked to written transcripts and supporting documents. That way researchers, journalists, and interested citizens could study the debate in the months and years to come: to learn, or merely to cast an informed ballot at election time. They could also embed crucial debate moments and related information into articles, papers, and blog postings. (The technology exists and is simple to use.)

But even a simple webcast and/or C-SPAN broadcast would be a great step forward, and some other Senators and Representatives can help make sure it happens. Why not give them an encouraging call? They include Majority Leader Harry Reid (202-224-3542), Speaker of the House Pelosi (202-225-0100), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (202-224-2541). (We just checked John Boehner off the list, but you can call him at 202-225-0704 to express your approval.)

Sen. Dodd - who coolly told TPM, "we'll see how it all works out" - can be reached at 202-224-2823. You can also let Chairman Frank know you support full televising of the conference as he originally proposed, by calling 202-225-5931. And Members of the Senate Committee can be found here, while House Committee members are here. If your Senator or Representative is among them, a call to them could be particularly effective.

Now is the time: The Congress is on the brink of conducting an important exercise in open government - one that will also ensure that we get the most effective financial reform possible. The momentum is building. All that's needed is a little push.

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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 "rjeskow@ourfuture.org."