Bachmann objects to closed-door sessions on health legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A plea from C-SPAN to televise negotiations that will merge the House and Senate health care bills seems likely to fall on deaf ears, House Democratic leaders signaled today, setting off a fresh wave of objection from Rep. Michele Bachmann and other Republicans who say the final measure shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.

C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb requested in a letter last week to House and Senate leaders that “all important meetings, including any conference committee meetings” be opened to electronic media coverage.

“President Obama, Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-file members, and the nation’s editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the nation’s health care system. Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American,” Lamb wrote.

House and Senate leaders have signaled that they’ll likely bypass conference negotiations — and the procedural, filibusterable votes that go along with them — in favor of a process informally called “ping pong,” which is essentially sending legislation back and forth between chambers until the same legislation passes both sides. The goal is to have a bill for President Obama to sign by his first State of the Union address, which is likely to come later this month or in early February.

Asked about the letter in a press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that “there has never been a more open process for any legislation that any one has gone through here.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took much the same line.

“Just as our health reform bill will create a more open health insurance system — transparency that will save lives and money and stop insurance company abuses — we are committed to transparency in the legislative process,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. “We will continue to ensure that the Congress and the public will have ample opportunity to see and evaluate health insurance reform legislation before it moves to final passage.”

In a short editorial titled “So Much for Transparency” posted to conservative website Townhall.com, Bachmann slammed Democrats for their efforts to “create a final bill out of the public eye and behind closed doors.”

“It appears the Democrats wish to do this outside of public scrutiny to speed up the process in hopes of getting it done and signed into law before the President makes his State of the Union speech,” Bachmann wrote.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and two other House Republicans joined that call in a letter to Pelosi asking that Republicans be included in the final health care reform negotiations, and that the sessions be televised. The three area all ranking members on committees that have jurisdiction on some aspect of health care reform.

Other Bachmann colleagues echoed her statement.

“As House Republican Leader, I can confidently state that all House Republicans strongly endorse your proposal and stand ready to work with you to make it a reality,” House Minority Leader John Boehner wrote to Lamb in a response obtained by POLITICO.

“C-SPAN’s role in fostering government transparency is so significant that on several occasions during the last presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged that health care reform negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN so the ‘American people will know what’s going on.'”

That pledge Republicans are referring to is actually a series of promises that candidate Obama repeatedly made in 2008 to broadcast key health care reform negotiations — from start to finish — on C-SPAN. Obama cited the failure to do so as one of the reasons that President Bill Clinton’s health care reform efforts failed.

PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political fact checker run by the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, has labeled his pledge as “Promise Broken.”

“Obama promised — repeatedly — an end to closed-door negotiations and complete openness for the health care talks,” PolitiFact reporter Angie Drobnic Holan wrote.  “But he hasn’t delivered. Instead of open talks of C-SPAN, we’ve gotten more of the same — talks behind closed doors at the White House and Congress. We might revisit this promise if there’s a dramatic change, but we see nothing to indicate anything has changed. We rate this Promise Broken.”

That was published July 10, 2009. There have been no such revisions yet.

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by david granneman on 01/05/2010 - 09:38 pm.

    this is just another one of many obama campaign promises broken. i suspect there will be many more.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 01/06/2010 - 06:48 am.

    David, Obama controls Pelosi no more than you or I do. This one is entirely on the congressional Democrats.

    I do not often agree with Rep. Bachmann, but she is absolutely correct on this one. Regardless of one’s viewpoint on the matter, a piece of legislation of this magnitude deserves an honest, open, public viewing as the House and Senate try to reconcile the two bills. Nothing less.

    If the White House was smart (and right now I think there is cause for debate on that), they would weigh in and demand that the negotiations between the House and Senate be open, televised, and honor the legislative processes and procedures that they are supposed to follow.

    The notion of bypassing the traditional Conference Committee and relegating this important discussion to a rump group in a back room for a significant bill like this leaves me with a sour stomach.

  3. Submitted by Peter Soulen on 01/06/2010 - 07:11 am.

    Yes, open the meetings. But what are Republicans or conservative American citizens going to hear that they have not already heard, rejected and done their best to kill?

    Republicans and moderate democrats have already seen to it that this bill has most of its teeth pulled and will not be true reform. Whatever changes come out of conference committee can’t be earth shattering or the delicate balance on the Senate side will be destroyed. The House bill was not such a firm deal either…

    This right wing call for transparency is just politics as usual – foolish posturing. People like me, on the left, want transparency because it’s the right thing to do.

  4. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 01/06/2010 - 07:12 am.

    Only single Republican voted for the final version of the bills in the House and Senate. Now they want to dictate terms on how the bills will be merged, and the TV coverage?

    The clock is ticking. It’s an election year, two Democratic senators announced they are not seaking reelection, and there is still a big chunk of Obama’s domestic agenda left to pass.

    Congress should tell C-Span to get over it and get r done.

  5. Submitted by John N. Finn on 01/06/2010 - 08:55 am.

    The report doesn’t explain how C-SPAN coverage would change the negotiation dynamics to the advantage of the Republicans. Is it that participating legislators would spend their time making speeches to the camera while trying to avoid saying anything that could be used in an opponent’s future campaign ads resulting in further delay? Maybe more astute readers than myself would know this already.

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 01/06/2010 - 09:39 am.

    Rather than get r done right, let’s just get r done quick. It seems that the reconciled bill must be passed before the state of the union address, which is why the address has not been scheduled.

    If this is important and historic legislation, why clip the public’s view of the process? Obama promised transparency, Reid and Pelosi claim transparency, yet we are shut out. I have not heard an argument convincing me to like that.

    Perhaps this is a confusion between transparent and invisible.

  7. Submitted by Tim Walker on 01/06/2010 - 12:18 pm.

    So … where was Bachmann and her pleas for “open process” when the Bush Administration had lobbyists meeting with GOP legislators behind closed doors and giving them bills drafted by the lobbyists, which the GOPers then took to the Senate and House floors unchanged?

    I’m not saying that two wrongs make a right, but the GOP hypocrisy on this issue is just stunning.

  8. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 01/06/2010 - 12:25 pm.

    Considering the effective and cooperative attitude that Republicans have shown on this bill, I am SHOCKED – SHOCKED do you hear – that these wise and selfless servants of the public were kept out of these meetings. I am sure if they were brought into the process, bickering would be minimized and a great number of them would vote for the final bill. Yeah, right!

    The Republican leaders in Congress got EXACTLY what they deserved. Act like self-serving jerks, get treated like it.

  9. Submitted by Howard Miller on 01/06/2010 - 01:23 pm.

    If the Republicans would quit stating false things about health care reform and quit stalling the legislation through filibuster, perhaps it would not be necessary to shut out their totally obstructionist ways

  10. Submitted by Pat McGee on 01/06/2010 - 01:43 pm.

    While she objects to closed door sessions, I object to her!

  11. Submitted by Steve Rose on 01/06/2010 - 02:16 pm.

    Much written about what the Republicans did and what Bachmann did to deserve being kept out of view of the proceedings.

    What did we, the American people, do to deserve being shut out?

    And what of the promises of Obama to broadcast it on C-Span, and what of Pelosi and Reid claiming transparency?

    What is the rush? Does Obama need this laurel before he addresses the nation regarding the state of the union? If he doesn’t have Obamacare, he will have to rest on his laurel of sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

  12. Submitted by Rita Sanchez on 01/06/2010 - 02:27 pm.

    This was supposed to be the most transparent administration. All deliberations on the Health Care bill were going to be on CSpan, according to Obama. It seems to me that the secret deliberations certainly do not meet the smell test. Another broken promise.

  13. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 01/06/2010 - 03:44 pm.

    Tim Walker: Yes. And for most if not all of the Bush years, conference committees consisted only of Republicans.

    They had everything their way, and it sounds as though they miss those good old days. Such as the night they held the 15-minute Medicare Part D vote open for hours until they could muscle enough votes to pass it.

    Which, as you say, does not confer rightness on Baucus’s allowing lobbyists to help write the bill, and clearing changes with the insurance companies before telling his committee about them, and the president’s backroom concessions to the drug and insurance companies (voluntary cost reductions, for goodness sake! As if).

  14. Submitted by Steve Rose on 01/06/2010 - 05:01 pm.

    Pelosi and Reid make laughable claims of transparency. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “there has never been a more open process for any legislation that any one has gone through here.” President Obama has made no calls for them to provide the transparency he promised. This is part of the CHANGE that he promised, and is not even attempting to deliver.

    I would like the administration/majority supporting comment posters to defend the heretofore indefensible blocking of these reconciliation proceedings from public view.

  15. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 01/06/2010 - 07:57 pm.

    I do not agree with Bachmann on much but I certainly agree with her on this issue. When we have a Senate bill that simply and plainly does not reflect the values of most Americans, a little openness is definitely in order.

    A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine said that the great majority of Americans believe in universal, quality and affordable health care with appropriate stewardship of our health care resources. Instead of actualizing these values, the Senate has put together a windfall for health insurance companies. UnitedHealth Group stock prices have popped ever since the details of the Senate bill were first leaked and then announced.

    I think the voters have a right to know who has their values and who does not. I think our own Senator Klobuchar, who appropriately dresses in black (similar to the witch in Hansel and Gretel), wants to make the rich richer and drive the middle class into servitude. It would be interesting to see who participates in the reconciliation process and to see their values.

  16. Submitted by Jerald Valento on 01/06/2010 - 10:21 pm.

    It’s pretty obvious that the majority of the commenters here have swallowed the dem’s koolaid. Not surprising on this website. What is also obvious is that:
    1.This healthcare bill has nothing to do with “reform” but everything to do with control.
    2.The Republicans have offered several versions of healthcare reform, none of which were allowed to be debated in committee.
    3.The quality of health care will go down dramatically and the costs will skyrocket for everyone except those not paying anything in.
    4.Other countries healtcare systems similar to what is preposed are failing (10% of Canadian doctors have left Canada to practice elsewhere or have quit practicing-there is no choice in Canada for doctors. Too many other examples to mention here, although France does not appear to be as bad as others.)
    5.Republicans have passed some stupid legislation in the past (ex. Medicare prescription drugs.)

    For anyone here not to be outraged about the lack of transparency for legislation so far reaching, so controlling, so full of graft and corruption, with a majority of a congress voting (on both sides)that knows little of what is contained in it (other than their own graft and corruption)is laughable, and, quite frankly, sad.

  17. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/07/2010 - 08:36 am.

    @17 Jerald,
    If Republican were really so hell-bent on saving money, why didn’t they look to what works in the rest of the world (they’re all cheaper), pick the one that was most ideologically pure to them (many are private systems) and propose that? If Democrats were really so hell-bent on universal coverage, ditto, there are dozens on the rack to choose from.

    Why not pick a health care system off the rack of Cheaper, Better, Proven systems? Seems the most conservative approach would be to use something that already has a track record, no?

    I’ll answer my own question on this one: we don’t have a government of, for, and by the people. We have a government of, for, and by the corporate interests with the deepest pockets.

    “The best democracy money can buy”…

  18. Submitted by Philip Kelley on 01/07/2010 - 10:25 am.

    I agree that this process should be televised, but I question the ability of the press or citizens of this country to thoughtfully listen understand and debate the policy. All we’ll get are half truths, soundbites, and twisted facts.

    If you really want to be part of the process, I’d reccomend writing your congressional representation and telling them what you want and expect from healthcare reform.

  19. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/07/2010 - 10:53 am.

    From the comments, one is left to conclude that many leftists believe what is being discussed behind those closed doors will actually be in their best interests.

    Given the details of the legislation the public does know about, I find this line of reasoning absolutely fascinating.

    I suppose it would be bad form to suggest that the Democrat congress is hiding the details from their own constituency until after they have composed talking points to save their political careers when the whole, ugly mess is finally put on display.

  20. Submitted by Dan Kitzmann on 01/07/2010 - 11:33 am.

    Reading the tribalism in the posts here, I am left with the sinking feeling that the MinnPost comments section is not quite so different from the Strib’s, only with better grammar and usage.

    (I am mindful of the irony in my playing rodeo clown and that my own metacomments do not add substantive edification to the “discussion.”)

    I realize it is facile and unhelpful to be cynical. Yet anybody who believes the Democrats are committed to the public good, and would achieve that good were it not for the odious Republicans, probably deserves the heartbreak and whatever ill effects this bill yields.

    Richard is right: a “true” conservative or liberal, as opposed to a rank partisan, could not in good conscience support this legislation. Then again, the terms liberal and conservative are mostly useless anyway.

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