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Congress at its best

As some of you know, the conference committee that finished the financial reform bill televised its deliberations on C-SPAN. That was a big step toward a form of transparency that people said they wanted, but they wanted it more in the abstract: The proceedings didn't exactly dominate the Nielsen ratings. Jonathan Bernstein says that's too bad:

I wrote an item earlier in the week casting doubt on the idea that people would ever pay attention to the mind-numbingly boring details of the banking bill conference committee, but I should have added one other thing: It's too bad that they don't. It makes Congress look good. They're obviously hard at work (and going late into the night at times); they seem to know what they're doing; and overall it's a much better side of Congress than most people ever see. There's some posturing, sure, but a whole lot less than people are used to. ... I don't think people would watch this and get the impression that politicians are preening clowns, which is exactly the impression people will have of Senate Judiciary when their hearing gets started, at least if past results are any guide to future performance.

My suggestion for those of you reading this -- and if you are, you're certainly in the upper sliver of high-information, high-interest citizens when it comes to politics and public affairs -- my suggestion is that if you've never watched a congressional committee markup or conference committee, that you make an effort to watch one. Floor action, hearings, election campaigns ... that's when we see our members of Congress, but it isn't when they do serious legislating. Now, a fair amount of legislating goes on behind closed doors -- which is entirely appropriate, by the way. But still, if you're interested in politics, I really do recommend watching a mark-up sometime. Well, at least fifteen minutes, half an hour, something like that, to get a taste of it. I'm certainly not claiming that if more people watched committee markups that everyone would love Congress; I know everyone hates Congress, and they always have and they always will. I'm just saying that it would be nice if at least those who care the most and spend the most time on politics would at least get some sense of what Congress actually does when it writes laws.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 25, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
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Perhaps CSPAN needs to bring along someone to shout, "GOOOOOAAAAAALLLL!!!!" when a significant event happens during the hearings, to help viewers keep track of what's happening

Posted by: bdballard | June 25, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Its really sad that our politics are dominated by low information voters. Finreg will have more impact on their lives than all of the sporting events shown this year combined, yet it will have .10% of the viewers. Same with HCR. Depending on the MSM to report on the facts and not the horse race, two legitimate sides to every issue with the republicans having 1 legitimate side, (instead of showing them as the mindless obstructionists they have become), just encourages congresscritters to grandstand and say things that will get them on MTP as opposed to proposing real solutions to our very big problems.

Posted by: srw3 | June 25, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I would've watched some of it, if I knew it was on.

And, had the unfortunate timing to compete with the world cup! I don't watch much soccer, but do geek out on the world cup...

Posted by: rat-raceparent | June 25, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Ratings are irrelevant. Few people watch television real time. The only ones who need to are reporters.

Journalists, analyst bloggers, and casually curious citizens can watch it at any time.

The important thing is that a visual record is available to everyone at anytime. Not how many eyeballs were stuck at the moment.

Posted by: DubiousAdvocate | June 25, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

You only need to look at Alvin Greene in South Carolina to see the unfortunate effects of low-information voters.

Posted by: madjoy | June 25, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

"You only need to look at Alvin Greene in South Carolina to see the unfortunate effects of low-information voters."

Actually, you only need to look at incumbent Jim DeMint in South Carolina to see the unfortunate effects of low-information voters.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 25, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

The tax-and-spend bill defeated yesterday was more interesting, in that the Social-Democratic Party (SDP) opposed extension of unemployment benefits when such benefits did _not_ increase the deficit (by use of allocated but unspent stimulus funds) but found the same extension adorable when the use of new, deficit-increasing funds were proposed for the same spending. In short, unemployment benefits are BAD if they're paid-for, GOOD if they increase the deficit and size of government (by at least the $175,000 in new payroll for those who "write" the checks).

Why would so many SPD members vote AGAINST extension of unemployment benefits simply because such extension of benefits was paid-for? Might it be that the SDP wishes to use the unspent stimulus funds for -- gee, I don't know -- maybe the cost overrun of the PPACA?

The SDP -- Congress at its worst. But then there are the "journalists" who fail to follow the story, preferring instead partisan hackery.

Posted by: rmgregory | June 25, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

"That was a big step toward a form of transparency that people said they wanted" Huh?
Who said they wanted this, other than the loudmouths at Fox News who were simply looking for a way to bash Obama (in this case for failing to keep a campaign promise)? Likewise, the point of putting this stuff on CSPAN is so that those same loudmouths can make mash-up videos that make some Democrat look bad for saying something he didn't say.

Posted by: randrewm | June 25, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I almost made it to the end last night (this morning) and gotta say Barney and Dodd run a great conference. It was informed debate with little of the posturing that normally dominates political discussion. I agree that it is too bad more people don't experience politics on that level. Silly arguments were dispensed with quickly as such and it was obvious that the issues were well understood and had been talked through thoroughly. I actually think this is one of the better congresses I have ever seen and today I am proud to an American and a democrat

Posted by: 64176417 | June 25, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

@rmgregory : The point of increasing spending on unemployment is to put MORE money into the economy, not to REALLOCATE MONEY ALREADY DESTINED FOR THE ECONOMY. The latter is a net wash in terms of stimulus.

If the funds are already allocated, it would be very hard to use them to cover "the cost overrun of the PPACA", so this is a big red herring.

Reallocating money from the stimulus is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Adding more money into the economy, even through the "evil" of deficit spending (ever heard of countercyclical spending to lift an economy out of recession?), will actually change the direction of the ship (economy) and hopefully keep it from hitting the iceberg of depression or double dip recession. Shrinking government in a recessionary economy just makes the recession worse by taking government purchasing and hiring power out of the economy. Its not like government spending or borrowing is crowding out private borrowers, since interest rates are at 0%.

Posted by: srw3 | June 25, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Patrick_M - touche. Point well made :P

Posted by: madjoy | June 25, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I’ve actually watched mark-up on C-SPAN3 on Wednesday and C-SPAN2 last night. Pretty interesting motions members bring to the table. Rep. Frank I think did a good job throughout the night making sure everyone was in line. Sen. Lincoln had tough time convincing her Dem colleagues to vote for her amendments.

Jonathan Bernstein is right on for encouraging citizens to watch the proceeding but I’ve noticed C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 show a lot of floor debates. C-SPAN3 is the only channel that shows a lot of the behind the scenes negotiations and debates inside the committees.

Posted by: SD619 | June 25, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 air only on cable TV...........had to give it up, costs... free TV antenna does not air it at all

A stand alone bill for extension of unemployment benefits may do better but the D's have to add on more pork (of witch they cut some out) so who is really holding up passage?
What about the money that is sitting of stimulus package that was so necessary, what was used was a total waste. There needs to have accountably for programs, the pool of people used to make the changes can’t all be the Democratic Party.
The bigger the government gets the more the spending Czar’s, political analysts,census,IRS etc the people still pay for them.These do not add to work force,they make nothing generate no dollars revenue.
Much that has been done has hurt the economy recovery. The government is out of control, does not have a clue and the politics half truths and miss stating of facts goes on.

Posted by: dagr2 | June 27, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

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