Congress wants details about Obama's healthcare reform deals

Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman joins Republicans in calling for details on any deals the White House may have made with special interests in crafting healthcare reform legislation. Did industry groups get special treatment?

Alex Brandon/AP/File
Henry Waxman (D) of Calif. speaks after he and other Democrats met with President Barack Obama at the White House in July. Listening from left are, Rep. Mike Ross (D) of Ark., left, Rep. Baron Hill (D) of Ind., and Rep. Frank Pallone (D) of N.J.

In an unusual bipartisan move, Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California joined Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce panel Wednesday in a call for the Obama White House to produce documents and details on the deals cut with industry groups on healthcare reform.

Those agreements – never released in any detail – set markers for Congress’s work on healthcare, which many lawmakers felt bound to respect.

“Allowing these deals to guide the legislative process is a dereliction of our responsibility as legislators and reflects poorly on this committee,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R) of Texas at a markup of a resolution of inquiry before the Energy and Commerce panel.

When Sen. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida proposed mandating more cost cuts from drug companies, colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee voted it down, citing a deal between the Obama White House and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

In another example, Democratic leaders stripped out of the final House bill the unanimous vote for patient protections offered by former chairman John Dingell (D) of Michigan and Rep. Michael Burgess (R) of Texas.

Looking for payoffs

“Was this a payoff to the insurance industry?” asked Mr. Burgess.

In response, chairman Waxman recalled three years of failed effort by the panel to pressure the Bush White House to release the identity of the industry groups that participated in Vice President Cheney’s closed-door energy task force.

“The energy plan that emerged from the task force’s work contained dozens of specific recommendations from top energy campaign contributors such as Enron,” Waxman said. “In contrast, the Obama administration has provided Representative Burgess with this information. That is a level of transparency that was unheard of during the eight years of the Bush administration.”

But in the interest of transparency, Waxman agreed that the Obama administration should do more. While the panel voted the resolution of inquiry out of committee without a recommendation, Waxman agreed to join with Republicans in calling for White House cooperation on several points.

What lawmakers want from the White House

These include:

• A list of all agreements entered into in writing, as well as the details including the sum and substance of all deals and agreements.

• The names of any individuals, groups, or companies that attended meetings at the White House regarding healthcare.

• The names of administration officials who attended meetings on healthcare, and the dates and times of those meetings. (Logs released so far include the names of visitors, but not the names of officials they met with.)

• Any paper or electronic records, including emails between the Department of Health and Human Services and the health industry in regard to health reform negotiations.

“I think it’s better to have a process that is bipartisan,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas, the top Republican on the panel. “While no side gets everything they want out of this, the public will be better served because the documents that will be released, if the White House agrees to the letter that you and I and Dr. Burgess are going to sign, will put more transparency into the system. I think that’s a good thing.”


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