What happened to Obama’s ‘government transparency’ pledge?

As a candidate, Obama said healthcare reform negotiations should be televised on C-SPAN. But now that House and Senate are hashing out their differences, the White House is backing away from that pledge.

In an image made from a C-SPAN broadcast, Vice President Joe Biden announces the result of the final Senate vote on the healthcare bill on Christmas Eve.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised “transparency” in government. The impression was left that we’d all be able to pull up a chair and watch administration officials and lawmakers hash out their philosophical and policy differences as they make laws that affect our lives.

Specifically, Obama said, “we’ll have [healthcare reform] negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so the people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who is making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.”

But now, the White House seems to be pulling back from that pledge, and that’s rankled some Democrats as well as Republicans, not to mention news analysts and opinion makers always eager for a squabble – especially if it hints at a broken promise.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed by the White House, has said the House and Senate – each of which have passed versions of healthcare reform – were putting the final bill together “behind closed doors according to an agreement by top Democrats.”

Not so fast, cry Republicans, who are feeling left out even though their general approach on the issue has been “just say no.”

“The negotiations are obviously being done in secret and the American people really just want to know what they are trying to hide,” said Rep. Tom Price, (R) of Georgia.

In a recent letter to congressional leaders, C-SPAN chief executive Brian Lamb asked lawmakers to televise their healthcare discussions.

"The American people pay for all this that goes on in this town," Mr. Lamb said on the Bill Press Show. "It's always been my contention – and it's not a sophisticated, intelligent position, it's just a gut reaction – that if we pay for something, and it's the public's business, we ought to be able to see how it's done. It's just that simple."

Not surprisingly, Republicans and conservative commentators like Michelle Malkin jumped on Lamb’s letter and radio comment, even though he says he’s not taking sides in the healthcare debate.

But some in the president’s own party are critical of what seem like a White House reversal here as well.

“Hundreds of hours of debate on health care reform – both in committee hearings and on the Senate and House floors – have been open to the public through broadcast on C-SPAN,” said Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill in a statement. “It's my opinion that we should open up any further negotiations between the House and the Senate to C-SPAN so the public can watch.”

Nobody’s holding their breath waiting for that to happen.


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