So much for an unwavering commitment to open government, one of President Barack Obama's oft-repeated campaign pledges. He even specifically said that the debates over health-care reform would be televised live on C-SPAN.
In other words, the American people would have the opportunity to watch the sausage being made.
But will we?
Amid grand debate and national consternation, a pair of health-care reform bills has emerged, one approved by the House and one by the Senate. Typically when that happens, when both chambers pass a different version of the same legislation, Democratic and Republican leaders appoint negotiators to work out differences and final details in conference committee.
Health-care reform, however, is proving to be far from typical.
When Republican lawmakers vowed to use procedural moves to block a conference committee, Democrats looked for ways to bypass the conference-committee process. That's likely to include three-way final negotiations between the Democratic president, Democrats in the House and Democrats in the Senate.
Top congressional Democrats already held an initial meeting with the president. And, according to news reports from Washington, an Obama spokesman has strongly suggested all talks before a final bill is presented for passage to the House and Senate would happen behind closed doors.
And where would that leave Americans, the ones who'll pay for health-care reform, who'll be stuck with how it works and whose economy will teeter on whether it was done correctly? Left out. Forgotten.
"The proceedings would not be considered must-see TV," the Forth Worth Star-Telegram wrote in an editorial last week. "But the C-SPAN sleep-inducing format nonetheless provides much-needed accountability. [And] given the Senate's last-minute pork-barrel largesse to sway fence-sitting moderates before Christmas, the trust level is at low ebb."
And that's with critical differences between the House and Senate versions still in need of compromise. The House version has a government-run "public option," for example, while the Senate bill includes insurance exchanges. Also, the House bill adds an income surtax on wealthier Americans while the Senate would tax high-cost insurance plans. And the House version contains tighter abortion-coverage restrictions.
"Simply because congressional leaders traditionally run conference committees in secrecy doesn't make it right," opined the Philadelphia Inquirer. "This legislation would affect a huge segment of the public. There is already more than enough behind-the-scenes bargaining taking place daily in Washington among lobbyists and policymakers."
The input of many usually results in the best possible ideas and solutions. Finding the right mix is imperative. That's as true in sausage-
making as reforming health care. Shutting out the public and an entire political party ignores potentially valuable input and only further polarizes a nation already far too divided.
And neither of those results was among President Obama's campaign pledges.