Senator John ThuneEvery time we enter a new year, many of us examine the things in our lives we can improve. We make resolutions and do our best to live by them. This year, Congressional leaders and the Administration could do right by the American people by following through with past pledges to provide increased transparency in the legislative process. The on-going efforts to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate-passed health care bills would be an excellent place to start.
When then-Senator Obama traveled the country as a candidate for president in 2008, he frequently promised a transparent debate over health care reform with television cameras capturing the deliberations to better inform the American public. Unfortunately, the process that has unfolded over the last year bears little resemblance to what the President pledged.
Instead of an open debate, the White House and Congressional Democrats shut the door to Congressional Republicans and to the American people. Countless backroom meetings have led to bills in both the Senate and House that are stuffed with special favors to ensure enough votes. Unfortunately, when members of the House and Senate meet to craft a final bill, South Dakotans can expect more of the same because it looks more and more likely that a formal conference deliberation will not be used. Instead, Congressional Democrat leaders and the White House appear set on using more closed-door meetings to hammer out the final health care bill that will be considered by both chambers of Congress in the coming weeks.
Recently, the chairman of C-SPAN, the non-profit network that covers Congressional activity, offered to televise the conference negotiations on the final health care bill. In early January, I led all of my Republican Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to accept C-SPAN’s offer to televise the deliberations, but it appears this request will not be accepted.
Unfortunately, if the approach taken by the White House and Democrat leaders in Congress toward reconciling the differing health care bills is any indication, increased transparency will be another failed promise to the American public. The campaign promise of a transparent debate on health care reform certainly rings hollow now, but my hope is that my recent letter and the growing frustration by South Dakotans and Americans across the country will force Democrat leaders and the White House to reconsider their tactics. After all, health care reform will have too great an impact on the American people to be finalized behind closed doors.