by Congressman Michael Turner
When the Obama Administration arrived in Washington one year ago, the President made a commitment to the American people that the federal government would operate under strict standards of transparency and openness under his administration. Similar promises were made by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, when she assumed the Speakership in 2007, and reiterated again in 2009. It is unfortunate that both the White House and Congressional Democrats have decided to break that commitment as House and Senate leaders begin the process of negotiating the details of a final health care reform bill.
Although I oppose the government takeover of our nation’s health care system and voted against H.R. 3962, I believe the public should be allowed to witness these final discussions. Instead, the Democrats have opted for “closed-door” meetings.
On December 30th, C-SPAN Chairman Brian Lamb sent a letter to Democratic and Republican congressional leaders urging them to “open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage.” Lamb’s request is in line with the President’s repeated pledge throughout the 2008 Presidential campaign to televise health care reform negotiations on C-SPAN so all Americans can witness the debate.
Last week, President Obama and Democratic leaders reached an agreement to forego any public hearings to merge the House and Senate versions of the health care reform legislation into a final bill. The House majority’s decision to break their promise in favor of secret discussions held out of sight from the public should cause us to wonder what exactly there is to hide.
C-SPAN is an ideal venue to broadcast televised coverage of any health care reform deliberations. For more than 30 years, C-SPAN has provided Americans with access to House and Senate floor proceedings, committee hearings, and public policy debates and discussions in the nation’s capitol.
Some in Congress have voiced their support for televised public hearings. In October, I joined over 150 of my House colleagues in co-sponsoring H.Res.847, a resolution expressing the support of Congress that any conference committee or other meetings held to determine the content of health care reform legislation be conducted in public for the American people to witness. Speaker Pelosi and the House majority have yet to express support for this resolution, and have not expressed a willingness to bring it to the floor for consideration by the full House of Representatives. The resolution’s primary sponsor, Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL), has announced he will file a discharge petition this week in an effort to force a vote.
It’s unfortunate that the President and Speaker Pelosi have been unable to achieve the transparency and openness in government they promised. As a result the American people have been in effect shut out of a very important debate that affects millions of American families, seniors, and businesses.
Americans on both sides of this issue deserve an opportunity to witness the final discussions on this extremely important issue. Transparency in these health care negotiations will assist in holding Congress accountable and allowing Americans to hear the discussions first-hand in order to gain a better understanding about how this legislation will impact their lives. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Congress to support open health care reform discussions.