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Thune Calls for Transparency in Health Care Conference Negotiations

Spearheads Letter Signed by All 40 Republican Senators

January 7, 2010

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune today sent a letter signed by all 40 Republican Senators to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) urging him to make the negotiations between members of the Senate and House of Representatives on the health care reform bill as transparent as possible. Senator Thune’s letter reiterates the concerns of many in South Dakota and across the nation that additional closed-door negotiations will lead to political favors in exchange for votes on the final health care proposal.

“Democrats from the House and Senate will retreat behind closed doors to fundamentally reshape one-sixth of our economy at the great expense of South Dakota taxpayers,” said Thune. “President Obama campaigned on making all health care deliberations open and accessible to the American people, but it appears this promise has been discarded in favor of backroom deals designed to push a controversial bill through Congress. South Dakotans and all Americans deserve more openness as Congress spends huge sums of taxpayer money on a major expansion of the federal government.”

President Obama frequently promised televised negotiations during his 2008 campaign. Majority Leader Reid has made similar statements about the importance of a transparent health care debate, including a recent statement on the Senate floor in which he noted, “We are closer than ever, but we’re not there quite yet. And as we head for the finish line, one of the most important parts of this process is transparency.”

Officials from C-SPAN, the non-profit network that broadcasts Congressional activity, recently offered to facilitate coverage of efforts to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate-passed bills, but their offer has not yet been accepted by either Majority Leader Reid or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Senator Thune is joined in sending the letter by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), John Barrasso (R-WY), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Kit Bond (R-MO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Richard Burr (R-NC), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Ensign (R-NV), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), James Inhofe (R-OK), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), George LeMieux (R-FL), Richard Lugar (R-IN), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jim Risch (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), David Vitter (R-LA), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

The full text of the letter follows:

January 7, 2010

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader, United States Senate
United States Capitol, S-221
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Majority Leader Reid:

As you know, the American public has been paying close attention to the health care debates in both chambers of Congress. This important issue affects one-sixth of the American economy, and the changes made by Congress will affect every American family, individual, and business for years to come. Previous rhetoric about transparency has thus far amounted to broken promises to the American people.

In the coming weeks, we ask for increased transparency in the process of merging the House-passed bill and the Senate-passed bill. Closed door negotiations and unprecedented special provisions in exchange for votes do not meet the expectations of the American people. Numerous Senators have reiterated the need for transparency and the President himself noted in August of 2008 that:

“I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We'll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies -- they'll get a seat at the table, they just won't be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, 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. And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process.”

To ensure that the American people have the ability to witness the on-going negotiations between the House and Senate, we ask that any negotiations regarding a final health care reform bill be conducted in the light of day. The Chairman of C-SPAN, the network responsible for broadcasting the deliberations of Congress, has offered resources to cover all negotiation sessions live. We urge you to take him up on this offer.

We look forward to your response and the commitment that the American people can expect full transparency as you work with Speaker Pelosi and White House officials to merge the House and Senate-passed health care bills.