Should the final act of the financial reform fight be televised? If it is, it would make any efforts—whether Republican or Democrat-led—to weaken the final product a heavier lift. And so there will be significant pressure to cut the final deal in as much darkness as possible. But if that’s the route legislators decide to go they’ll have to walk back from earlier nods toward the importance of transparency
Several weeks ago, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank dared Senate Republicans to oppose Wall Street reform, and warned that, after the Senate passed its legislation, any further efforts to weaken the final product would have to be public: a formal conference committee to iron out the differences between the House and Senate bills, even a C-SPAN camera so the whole world could see where each party stood.
Well, last night, the Senate passed its bill, and on Monday the Senate will take formal steps to begin the conference committee process. And in conversation, key Republicans and Democrats last night say they think inviting the cameras along would be just fine.
“That’d be great,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), a Republican conferee told me. “Sure.”
“Televised? Oh, I’m not against that being televised,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)—the top Republican financial reform negotiator. “We televised the Senate, we televised the House.”
In fact, the one senator who seemed unenthusiastic about it was a Democrat—Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd. “I have no opposition to it,” Dodd said. “We’ll see how it all works out.”
This ties Democrats’ hands on a couple levels. First, having gone on the record in favor of conducting the conference in open session, and live on television, they’ll have a hard time explaining themselves if they opt to conduct most of the meetings in private. And second, if the cameras are rolling Democrats will once again find it difficult to pare back their own legislation—including a controversial measure in the Senate bill requiring financial firms to hive their derivatives swaps desks off into separate entities. Democratic leadership and the White House want the provision gone, as do most Republicans, but thus far—and thanks to the openness of the floor debate—the politics have made that impossible. Nobody wants to answer to the public for siding with Wall Street.
Don’t be surprised to see progressives pushing for an open conference—it’s probably their last source of leverage to strengthen the final legislation before the President signs a final bill into law.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.