Capitol Comment: Americans deserve greater transparency in health care bill negotiations

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison Jan. 14, 2010, 4:58am

On Christmas Eve, just as Americans were getting ready to celebrate the holiday with family and friends, Senate Democrats passed a partisan health care bill without a single Republican vote. It was crafted in secret and packed with sweetheart deals. A majority of Americans were rightly opposed to the bill, but it was rushed through without regard to the rising concerns raised by citizens throughout our country.

Over the past year, Republicans repeatedly offered constructive, concrete proposals to reform America's health care system, but over and over again we were shut out of the legislative process. In committee hearings, Republican commonsense amendments were defeated.

On the Senate floor, we were blocked from offering a reasonable number of Republican amendments to address issues such as tax increases and Medicare cuts. And promises to give the public ample time to read the bill online � a bill that was more than 2,000 pages long � were broken. Even Senate Democrats reluctantly acknowledged that they had yet to see the final version of a bill that leaders of their own party had been amassing in secret.

Now that the Democrats have rammed this legislation through Congress, they are once again closing the doors on the American people as they merge the House and Senate versions of the bill.

Closed door negotiations and political kickbacks in exchange for votes do not meet the expectations of the American people. Numerous Senators have reiterated the need for transparency, including then-Senator Barack Obama as a presidential candidate in August 2008:

"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."

On his very first day in office, President Obama signed a memorandum to all federal agencies directing them to break down barriers to transparency, participation, and collaboration between the federal government and the people it is to serve. The President said at the time:

"For too long, the American people have experienced a culture of secrecy in Washington, where information is locked up, taxpayer dollars disappear without a trace, and lobbyists wield undue influence. For Americans, business as usual in Washington has reinforced the belief that the government benefits the special interests and the well connected at the expense of the American people."

I couldn't agree more with the approach the President promised. It's unfortunate, however, that we have yet to see the Administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid follow through on the President's pledge.

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