DON'T LOOK NOW, because it isn't on your TV screen just yet -- but if Majority Leader Howard Baker has his way, the U.S. Senate may soon take to the airwaves, live from Capitol Hill. Though we can't vouch for the program content, this production has the markings of a public-service hit, perhaps even topping the House floor show, which took to the channels two seasons ago. As Sen. Baker commented in introducing a resolution to permit coverage, it amounts to "simply a modern-day extension of the public gallery and the public's right to view the legislative process of the government on a firsthand basis."
It may not match "As the World Turns" or "Family Feud," but the coverage might well sharpen the performances. Instead of leaving the scriptwriting to a team of staff members and fielding one or two senators to go through the verbal motions in a near-empty chamber, this august body may produce a cast of dozens to argue the merits and demerits of would-be laws.
Just as there was in the House for many years before the big switch in that chamber, there is bound to be a certain amount of stage fright in the Senate, along with fear that the cameras will turn statespeople into hams. We can hear it now:
"Fr-r-r-r-om Washington, it's the 'Senate Show,' starring Howard Baker. . . . This is Bob Byrd, along with Paul Laxalt and the orchestra inviting you to join Howard and his guests, Vice President George Bush, the Moral Majority and that new group, the Pages. . . . Now, h-e-e-e-e-e-re's Howard!"
But just as Sen. Baker's proposal is serious, the results should be as well; in the House, both the live courverage on cable television and the taped excerpts used on newcasts have been well received. Not only have millions of people all around the country been attracted to daily broadcasts of House sessions, but members are doing their public business without playing to the cameras anymore than they do to their constituents at home. Will the Senate join them on the air? Stay tuned.