Openness lacking in negotiations on health care bill

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 11, 2010

“Our efforts are going to be to work on a bipartisan basis in anopen fashion to solve the problems of the American people.” –Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Jan. 4, 2007

Given the climate in Washington lately, only the mostpolitically naïve could have expected the “bipartisan” part of theDemocratic congressional leader’s statement to be fulfilled. Butconsidering Democrats’ wailing over supposed Bush-era secrecy inoffice, perhaps the “open fashion” portion of Reid’s comments had achance.

Well, so much for that it seems.

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Reid, his House leader counterpart Nancy Pelosi, and PresidentBarack Obama – all of whom at some point have promised moretransparency in government – have so far resisted calls to havenegotiations regarding health care legislation broadcast overC-SPAN.

That channel’s Chairman and CEO Brian P. Lamb asked for suchopenness in a Dec. 30 letter to congressional leaders. Republicanlawmakers, who have been all but ignored in the crafting of thecontroversial legislation, have been joining in the call.

Republican Gregg Harper, in his first term as Mississippi’s 3rdDistrict representative, last week added his voice to the growingclamor. He said the current situation is ironic in that one ofObama’s first executive order sentences promised a commitment to”creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”

“The American people deserve a seat at the table and so Istrongly support this request by C-SPAN, and urge the Democraticleadership to follow suit,” Harper said. “Citizens deserveopenness, transparency and accountability, not more secretivebackroom deals.”

Perhaps the Democrats just don’t have time for openness. Itcould get in the way of self-imposed deadlines for action.

House leadership wanted its bill passed before a late summerrecess, but didn’t quite get it. Reid got his Christmas wishgranted with passage of a Senate version on the day before theholiday.

Now Obama wants a compromise version ready by the time hedelivers his State of the Union speech later this month or in earlyFebruary.

When talking about an area that accounts for one-sixth of thenational economy and will cost billions of dollars, it would be ineveryone’s best interest to know what possibilities there are forthe final version of the health care legislation. That can’t bedone when negotiations are conducted behind closed doors.

Openness laws often refer to sunshine as the best antiseptic forgood government. That still holds true, and it would seemespecially so when the topic is health care.