FOR MOST TV viewers, the House of Representatives on C-SPAN is about as appealing as an infomercial for juicers or wrinkle creams. That's partly because any semblance of real debate on the House floor vanished years ago, replaced by scripted exchanges with occasional bursts of feigned emotion. But another problem is that the cameras are controlled by the speaker of the House. C-SPAN wants to change that.
This week, C-SPAN Chief Executive Brian Lamb asked incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to give viewers a more complete picture of the House floor. Citing Pelosi's pledge for a more open House, he urged her to let C-SPAN bring its own cameras into the chamber, under its own direction. That way, viewers would get more of the flavor of the House and the personality of its members. They would be more likely to see such excitement as members' reactions to provocative remarks, committee chairmen holding court in the back of the chamber and last-minute cajoling to win badly needed votes.
Lamb also wants immediate access to voting records. A giant electronic display board inside the chamber provides a real-time view of how individual members vote (and change their votes), but C-SPAN currently can show nothing but the total for each party until long after the tallying has ceased. It's not unusual for the majority party's leadership to extend the voting period while they woo holdouts, but unlike people watching from the gallery, C-SPAN viewers can't tell who those holdouts might be.