That was then. This is now.
As the heated debate over health care reform winds down to the final hours and last bales of paper, as Congress attempts to reconcile the differences between the bills passed by the House and the Senate, the discussions have disappeared behind locked doors.
There will not even be the sham of a conference committee so the opposing sides can pontificate and bloviate before the cameras while real negotiations and horse trading take place in the shadows. All so the Democratic leadership can rush through a bill, any bill, to President Barack Obama for a dramatic Rose Garden signing ceremony before the State of the Union address so he may preen and posture over what his administration has accomplished in a single year.
The public's opinions are irrelevant. The polls are dismissed as flawed.
A poll of Nevada voters conducted this past week for the Review-Journal and reviewjournal.com found 54 percent oppose the reform. That's up from 49 percent in October.
Sixty percent disapproved of Majority Leader Harry Reid's efforts to push insurance reform through the Senate, up from 50 percent a month ago. As for the deals given Nebraska and Louisiana to gain 60 votes in the Senate, 72 percent of Nevadans disapproved.
Fully 44 percent of the small number of uninsured said they would pay a fine rather than buy insurance, waiting to do so till they become ill, since they can't be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
Obama and congressional Democrats want some kind of health insurance reform, and they are darned well going to get it, whether people have any appetite for it or not.
Repeatedly Obama has stated -- on the campaign trail and since his inauguration -- that his will be the most transparent administration is history.
In an editorial board meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle in early 2008, then-Sen. Obama promised unprecedented openness on health reform. It was a promise he repeated frequently.
"But these negotiations will be on C-SPAN, and so the public will be part of the conversation and will see the choices that are being made," candidate Obama told the newspaper's liberal editorial board. "So if a member of Congress is carrying water for the drug companies and says, 'Well, we can't negotiate for the cheapest available prices on drugs because we need the money for R&D research,' well, we'll have a discussion right there in front of the American people about the fact that the drug companies do need profits, but they are also spending a whole bunch of it on marketing ...
"That builds in accountability in the system because that congressman is now put on the spot. I would not underestimate the degree to which shame is a healthy emotion and that you can shame Congress into doing the right thing if people know what is going on."
Apparently there is no shame in totally abandoning a campaign promise. (While campaigning he also ridiculed John McCain's idea to tax so-called Cadillac insurance policies, but now insists on it?)
That was then. This is now.
In fact, C-SPAN sent a letter asking to be allowed to televise such talks. It has been ignored.
Reid has changed his tune, too.
According to a Washington political newspaper, The Hill, in 2006 Reid made an impassioned speech rebuking his colleagues for forsaking the conference committee process on a bill regulating asbestos.
"Of course, nobody can see the managers' amendment. It is composed of over 40 amendments," Reid is quoted as saying then. "How could anyone vote for a piece of legislation such as that -- a managers' amendment with 42 separate amendments?" He complained Democrats, then in the minority, were "cut out of the process."
Reid's mid-December manager's amendment to the health insurance bill was 383 pages long.
At least House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is consistent. She delusionally insists there is no secrecy. When recently asked about the lack of openness and Obama's campaign promises, she meekly replied there were a number of things said on the campaign trail and dropped the topic.
She then boasted, "There has never been a more open process for any legislation for anyone who's served here's experience. ... Tens of thousands of people participated in our town meetings, over a hundred witnesses in our bipartisan hearings that were held in the conference and the list goes on."
Those were the town hall meetings at which she saw people carrying swastikas, right?
That was then. This now.
Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public records and meetings. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@ reviewjournal.com. Read his blog at lvrj.com/blogs/mitchell.