Avoid and conquer

"Avoid and conquer" Continued...

Issue: "Pro-baby," Jan. 30, 2010

Even Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who became the crucial 60th and final Senate healthcare vote only after he landed a $300 million "Cornhusker Kickback" Medicaid exemption, assured folks back home that he knows "it was a mistake to take healthcare on as opposed to continuing to spend the time on the economy."

Yet, while this was going on around the country, many of the congressional ringleaders, who pulled out all the stops in their arm-twisting for a final vote, seemed content to continue plotting ways to make the healthcare overhaul law while bypassing normal procedures. A traditional formal bipartisan conference committee to hash out the differences between the now-passed House and Senate healthcare prescriptions could be tabled in favor of continued closed-door efforts to merge the two bills. These partisan internal negotiations would shut out Republicans and would limit the number of votes lawmakers would have to call before final passage.

This fast-tracking tactic drew the attention of C-SPAN founder Brain Lamb. In a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders, Lamb wrote: "We respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American."

But so far Democrats are resisting such overtures for cameras. This seems to contradict the repeated statements of one presidential candidate in 2008 who promised that "we'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies." One guess: yes, President Barack Obama.

Flustered by the lack of access to lawmakers this recess, tea party groups have turned to the 20th century's version of town halls: online social networking. Already they have latched onto CSPAN's transparency plea by creating a web petition drive to "let the cameras in" that is averaging about 10,000 new signees daily. Internet pages in support of the tea party movement are already promoting State of the Union viewing parties where participants will invite local media to hear their own post-speech state of the union assessments.

With late night and early morning holiday votes to advance the bill while no one is watching, America's trust factor when it comes to their lawmakers is continuing to plummet. Now will the efforts to junk a formal committee to merge the two bills emerge as the last healthcare straw?

"We don't have bills like this every single year," Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, told me. Not having a clear understanding about what is going to happen next "makes people frightened and outraged."

Indeed, there seems to be a growing frustration that all the grassroots action of the past year will not defeat the bill. But Adam Brandon with Freedom Works is trying to remind conservatives that the healthcare debate won't end even if the bill passes: "People went to the town halls last year because that was where the action was. The action this year won't be the town halls. It will be the elections. You never want to be on the wining side of a controversial issue in an election year."

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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