Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to have the most transparent administration in history, and that his commitment to openness would compel Congress to embrace sunshine over secret dealmaking in reforming health care. "We'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies," Mr. Obama said at one event.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi function within a branch of government that's outside the president's control. They have no intention of following traditional procedures, let alone being transparent, when they try to reconcile the differences between their respective 2,000-page health care bills. There will be no formal House-Senate conference committee. They're going to lock out minority Republicans -- and the public to boot.
"We hope to get a bill done as soon as possible," said Jim Manley, one of Sen. Reid's spokesmen.
That means keeping you in the dark.
Yes, the House and Senate versions of the legislation are available to the public, and plenty of pundits and policy experts have spent the past month dissecting the bills.
What Americans don't know -- and what they won't get to see -- is how far Sen. Reid and Rep. Pelosi will go to get what they want. Taxpaying voters will be cut off from the decisive debate on a monstrous increase in consumer costs and federal authority. Can senators and representatives defend the economically impossible concepts they embrace -- more health care, lower costs -- in spontaneous, free-flowing discussions? Or will they simply push forward a slip of paper with the dollar amount needed to secure their support, as Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., already has?
Last week, C-SPAN Chief Executive Officer Brian Lamb, seizing on the president's 2008 promises, wrote Sen. Reid, Rep. Pelosi and Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, urging them to "open all important negotiations ... to electronic media coverage. The C-SPAN networks will commit the necessary resources to covering all of these sessions LIVE and in their entirety."
In a Nov. 2 floor speech, Sen. Reid said, "And as we head for the finish line, one of the most important parts of this process is transparency." Clearly, Nevada's senior senator has changed his mind about openness. Perhaps he can explain why to Nevada voters later this year.
The president has been conveniently silent on one of the signature issues of his campaign. That's not change we can believe in. He must demand the negotiations be public.