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Ensign: Televise stimulus bill talks

WASHINGTON — Sen. John Ensign on Tuesday called on congressional leaders to allow full television coverage of negotiations this week where a handful of House and Senate members will finalize the economic stimulus bill.

The Nevada Republican said broadcasts of the conference committee meetings will encourage “transparency and accountability” as senior lawmakers make decisions on the crucial legislation that President Barack Obama has said he is counting on as a key component of his economic rescue strategy.

“It should not be behind closed doors. It should be out in the open,” Ensign said. “When you are spending a trillion dollars, it is even more important.”

Ensign maintained that TV coverage of the conferees would “hold them accountable, to find out if there are things being hidden in the bill at the last minute, who is being done favors or if there are special things being put in the bill.”

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, “I don’t have any reason to believe the conference won’t be open.”

But as is usually the case with major bills, much of the heavy lifting on the most contentious issues is expected to take place out of the spotlight.

Additionally, a number of lower-profile issues usually are negotiated by staff before the conference panel meets formally.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, said in a separate gathering that when Republicans controlled Congress, there were hardly any conference committee meetings, let alone ones conducted in public.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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