Want to see Washington's sausage-making live? Now's your chance! In an unusual move, Congress has chosen to televise the conference committee that will finalize the financial regulation bill. Since Democrats are convinced that Americans want an aggressive crackdown on Wall Street, they feel making the proceedings public will shame any politicians who attempt to water down the bill. Will it work?
The loudest voice calling for conference to be televised has been that of Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA). In a letter to C-Span he says:
As we move forward, I urge you to provide the necessary resources to ensure that the American people are able to watch the public portions and the voting of the Conference Committee. I believe it is vital that after the financial crisis of 2008, the American people are able to view the public proceedings.
There are a couple things to note here. First, not everything will be televised. Even Frank distinguishes "public portions" from presumably private talks. So you can't expect every moment of negotiation to be televised. Even outside the formal committee proceedings, there will be meetings in halls, offices, and other informal settings where deals might be struck. Unfortunately, it's just not possible to televise all of this.
But with any luck, some of interesting parts of the process will be public. Yet, if the conference committee is televised, and no one is listening, does it make a sound? Even though Democrats believe people care about financial reform, the reality is that it's far less interesting to the average American than other recent political fights, like health care. Many people outside of Wall Street don't fully grasp many of the complex financial concepts that will be discussed, and more importantly, they don't see how the regulatory effort affects them.
So it's not particularly likely millions of people will tune into C-Span3 starting at 2:15 today to watch the action. But a handful of journalists might. Perhaps more eyeballs will fall on their articles written about process. Making the proceedings public isn't likely to have a major effect on the legislation, but politicians may fear populists outrage if reporters use the public record to portray them as too friendly to Wall Street.