Speaking at a town hall meeting on August 21, 2008, in Chester, Virginia, then-candidate Barack Obama promised the American people: “I’m going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We’ll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies … what we will do is, we’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents … And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process.” The participants around Obama’s fictional big table may have changed depending on where he was speaking, but throughout his campaign the essential promise was always there: “negotiations televised on C-SPAN.”
Of course, Obama already broke this promise to the American people months ago. According to PoliFact, the backroom deals Obama cut with drug companies and hospitals last July already violated this pledge. But those were just preliminary negotiations. Surely when it came time for the final health care bill passage in Congress, Obama and his allies would welcome some transparency into the process? No such luck.
Politico is reporting that President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will meet at the White House today – January 5 – (joined by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) via conference call) to set the parameters for reconciling the House and Senate versions of health care legislation. However, instead of proceeding with the usual public and open conference committee process, the White House is going to take a very active role in secret behind-closed-door meetings between the House and Senate. The Sunlight Foundation explains the implications for the American people: “Both House and Senate rules require that all conference committee meetings be open to the public unless a majority of conferees votes in open session to close the meetings. Senate rules require all conference committee reports be publicly available for at least 48 hours prior to a final vote. Without conference, there is no mechanism to provide for openness in the final discussions regarding the health care bill.”
And there is plenty of reason the American people should demand transparency in the final stages of the legislative process.