Editorial: Let public in on financial reform talks

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

As Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess this week, its most important piece of unfinished business is financial regulatory reform. The House and Senate have approved different bills, which must be reconciled in a conference committee before a final bill can be sent to the president.

Conference committees, where the final phase of legislative sausage-making take place, are typically closed-door affairs. That's what made it so audacious when candidate Barack Obama promised to put negotiations over health care reform on C-Span.

It was a promise President Obama didn't keep. A conference committee never even met on health care reform, and the deals made in private on that bill's circuitous route to passage sparked bipartisan outrage. Republicans, who have rarely made a big deal of transparency before, made Democrats pay for what they called back-room deals.

Health reform passed anyway, but Republican aggressiveness and Democratic defensiveness have had a positive effect on financial reform. Like health care reform, financial reform is a large, complicated, heavily-lobbied piece of legislation. But this time, both parties are calling for decisions to be made in public.

The conference committee "will be conducted, in formal parts, in public," Rep. Barney Frank, who'll chair the committee, told the national press. "That means that no agreements reached, no compromises that obviously are being discussed, will be made part of anything without being publicly presented and voted on and discussed."

No one expects Congress to function without private discussions, and Frank's phrasing leaves Democrats ample wiggle room. But the more discussions, debates and votes Frank can get on C-Span, the less Republicans and other critics will have to complain about and the more confidence the people will have in Congress.

Public approval ratings of both parties in Congress are near record lows. With elections five months away, it is in the interest of every incumbent to push for a fair and open deliberative process. Voters should demand Frank and his colleagues deliver on their promise of a more open legislative process.

The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News