06 Jan 2010 Bad Faith & Broken Promises: Accountability and Transparency Casualties of Health Care Debate, by Matt Patterson
On election night 2006, incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took note of her party’s sweeping electoral victory and proclaimed, “Democrats promise to work together in a bi-partisan way for all Americans!”1
Instead, Congressional Democrats have consistently locked their Republican colleagues out of the past year’s health care negotiations. As Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) wryly noted in September, “This is not bipartisan. For bipartisanship to work, the Majority has to be willing to collaborate with the Minority. That has not occurred.”2
The shutting out of the GOP continues as health care legislation inches toward final passage: The Democratic leadership seems determined to bypass the formal conference process by which House and Senate bills are normally reconciled, a move “that will exclude Republican lawmakers”3 from the process of putting together a final bill to send to the President’s desk.
If the “working together in a bi-partisan way” portion of Pelosi’s promise turned out to be empty, so too did the “for all Americans,” portion, as polls consistently show more than half of Americans oppose the Democrats’ health care agenda.4 And no wonder – according to pollster Scott Rasmussen, “Fifty-nine percent (59%) of voters believe passage of the plan will increase the cost of health care, and 51% think it will hurt the quality of care,” and a full “seventy-eight percent (78%) expect the plan to cost more than projected.”5 Yet still Democrats charge ahead, blithely ignoring the fervent fears and frustrations of over half the electorate.
Nancy Pelosi made other sweeping promises that election night 2006. She vowed that “The Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history.”6 To which, in light of the recent health care drama, one might respond:
1. Is it “honest” to hide the true cost of your legislation with budgetary gimmicks in which three years of new taxes precede the bulk of the spending, making your program seem more affordable than it really is in an artificial budgetary window?7
2. Is it “open” for the Congressional leadership to “secretly craft the final bill behind closed doors,”8 far from the prying eyes of the press, the public, and the rest of Congress, or to have important procedural votes in the middle of the night,9 or pass critical legislation on Christmas Eve,10 when most sane people are blissfully distracted from the machinations on Capitol Hill?
3. Is it “ethical” to buy the votes of recalcitrant members of your caucus with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in backroom deals, such as “the inclusion of $100-$300 million in added federal aid for Medicaid recipients in Louisiana, the home state of Sen. Mary Landrieu,”11 in return for her vote, or the offer to Senator Ben Nelson of “a permanent exemption from the state share of Medicaid expansion” for his home state of Nebraska, in exchange for his vote?12
To be sure, health care has proven hazardous to the promises of many a politician, including Barack Obama. This one, for instance, given by then-candidate Obama in September 2008: “I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”13
Yet the Senate version of ObamaCare contains a 40 percent tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans that will fall – you guessed it – squarely on the middle class: According to Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, 95 percent of people who have Cadillac insurance plans make under $250,000 per year.14
Even Nancy Pelosi is taking potshots at Obama for this one.15 When asked about another of Obama’s campaign promises, about allowing C-SPAN cameras to cover the health care negotiations, Pelosi pointedly remarked, “There are a number of things he [Obama] was for on the campaign trail,” referring, according to a report in Politico,16 to Obama’s no-tax-hike-on-the-middle-class pledge. It’s as if the Speaker is saying, “it’s not my problem if the President promised stupid things.”
And what about that C-SPAN pledge? On the 2008 presidential campaign trail, Obama indeed often talked of having health care negotiations “broadcast” on C-SPAN, in an effort to “enlist the American people” in the process.17 At one point Obama promised flat out “these negotiations will be on C-SPAN,” so that “the public will be part of the conversation and will see the choices that are being made.”18
Of course, the C-SPAN cameras have not been allowed anywhere near the largely clandestine health care dealings, prompting C-SPAN chief Brian Lamb to write a letter to Congressional leaders on December 30,19 imploring to be allowed in as the President had promised. Lamb wrote in part:
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 Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.20
It seems unlikely that Lamb will get his wish. When asked whether the President believes he is living up to his transparency pledge, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs replied: “I do not believe the American people have lacked for information on what’s in these bills — the political and policy arguments around different people’s positions – I think that’s been well documented.”21 Huh? That answer was fatuous in the extreme, because the President’s own transparency standard has manifestly not been met. Even the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact, a publication of the liberal-leaning St. Petersburg Times, rates Obama’s C-SPAN promise as certifiably “broken.”22
Given her own recent behavior, Pelosi’s audacity in criticizing the President’s flip-flopping is nothing short of astounding. Despite having “no intention of making the deliberations public,”23for example, Pelosi can nonetheless with a straight face claim that “there has never been a more open process for any legislation”24 than that which gave birth to her health care monstrosity.
It’s not just the deliberations Pelosi has sought to keep from public view; the bills themselves have been hidden until the last possible second. On September 24, the Speaker said she was “absolutely’ committed to posting the final House health care bill online 72 hours before the final vote.25 But by November 5, it was a different story, and the Weekly Standard reported, “Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office tells The Weekly Standard that the speaker will not allow the final language of the health care to be posted online for 72 hours before bringing the bill to a vote on the House floor, despite her September 24 statement that she was ‘absolutely’ committed to doing so.”26
This broken promise constituted an “outrage” in the estimation of Steve Moore of The Wall Street Journal, as it meant that Congress would be voting on “one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history” which nonetheless “most of the members will not have read,” and the contents of which the American people would be almost wholly ignorant.27
Transparency has fared no better in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has himself demonstrated no small measure of hypocrisy and bad faith. Writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, for example, Reid claimed that “transparency is key” in the health care debate.28 This is an astonishing, considering that Reid’s bill was put together largely by himself and two other Senators “behind closed doors.”29 So secretive were Reid’s negotiations, in fact, that even Democratic Senators lamented that they knew “few details” about Reid’s plan, which the Majority Leader was keeping “under wraps.”30
Under wraps. Behind closed doors. Backroom deals. These phrases crop up again and again in reports of the Democrats’ health care legislation. They are phrases which denote secrecy and stealth. Ask yourself, would you go along with any plan that had these sinister signs swirling ‘round it? Would you even go on a weekend ski trip if the details were kept under wraps, negotiated with backroom deals behind closed doors? Of course not, for you would be justly suspicious that something shady was afoot.
And yet we are going to allow the government to take control of 1/6th of the economy and our health care under these precise circumstances?
Matt Patterson is a policy analyst at The National Center for Public Policy Research.
1 “2006 Flashback: Pelosi Says Dems Will Have Most Honest & Ethical Congress,” Real Clear Politics, January 5, 2010, downloaded from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2010/01/05/
2006_flashback_pelosi_says_dems_will_have_most_honest__ethnical_congress.html on January 5, 2010.
2 “Paul Ryan on MSNBC’s Morning Joe,” September 23, 2009, downloaded from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMal5JZdUIo on January 5, 2010.
3 “Dems Intend To Bypass GOP on Health Care Compromise,” Real Clear Politics, January 4, 2010, downloaded from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/news/ap/politics/2010/Jan/04/
dems_intend_to_bypass_gop_on_health_compromise.html on January 5, 2010.
4 “Health Care Reform,” Rasmussen Reports, January 4, 2010, downloaded from http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/current_events/healthcare/
september_2009/health_care_reform on January 5, 2010.
6 “2006 Flashback: Pelosi Says Dems Will Have Most Honest & Ethical Congress,” Real Clear Politics, January 5, 2010, downloaded from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2010/01/05/
2006_flashback_pelosi_says_dems_will_have_most_honest__ethnical_congress.html on January 5, 2010.
7 Benjamin E. Sasse & Jeffrey H. Anderson, “Prescriptions for disaster,’ The New York Post, November 5, 2009, downloaded from http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/prescriptions_for_disaster_lrgi3GBjbGlIZFrM8hHXJO on November 9, 2009.
8 Andrew Malcolm, “Democrats Reid, Pelosi Ponder Crafting Obama’s Final Health Care Bill Behind Closed Doors,” Los Angeles Times Top of the Ticket, January 4, 2010, downloaded from http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2010/01/healthcare-senate-house-democrats-obama.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+topoftheticket+(Top+of+the+Ticket) on January 5, 2010.
9 Janet Hook and Noam N. Levey, “Senate Democrats get 60 votes to move healthcare bill along,” Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2009, downloaded from http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-na-health-senate21-2009dec21,0,1920190.story on January 5, 2010.
10 “Senate passes historic health care legislation,” Associated Press, December 24, 2009, downloaded from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34584011/ns/politics-health_care_reform/ on January 5, 2010.
11 Brian Montopoli, “Tallying the Health Care Bill’s Giveaways,” CBS News, December 21, 2009, downloaded from http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/12/21/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry6006838.shtml on January 5, 2010.
12 Chris Frates, “Payoffs for states get Harry Reid to 60 votes.” Politico, December 19, 2009, downloaded from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1209/30815.html on January 5, 2010.
13 “Promises to Keep: Candidate Obama vs. President Obama,” Fox News, November 1, 2009, downloaded from http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/10/23/pub-obama-campaign-promises/ on December 14, 2009.
14 “Health Care Countdown: Senate Bill Could Hit Middle Class Hard,” Fox News, January 4, 2010, downloaded from http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/01/04/health-care-countdown-senate-health-hit-middle-class-hard/?test=latestnews on January 5, 2010.
15 Patrick O’Connor & Glenn Thrush, “Nancy Pelosi takes swipe at President Obama’s campaign promises,” Politico, January 6, 2010, downloaded from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31180.html on January 6, 2010.
17 “Obama’s C-Span Problem,” Real Clear Politics, January 5, 2010, downloaded from http://realclearpolitics.blogs.time.com/2010/01/05/obamas-c-span-problem/ on January 5, 2010.
19 “C-SPAN Challenges Congress To Open Health Care Talks To TV Coverage,” Fox News, January 5, 2010, downloaded from http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/01/05/c-span-challenges-congress-open-health-care-talks-tv-coverage/ on January 6, 2010.
20 “Obama’s C-Span Problem,” Real Clear Politics, January 5, 2010, downloaded from http://realclearpolitics.blogs.time.com/2010/01/05/obamas-c-span-problem/ on January 5, 2010.
21 “Gibbs: Public Has Not ‘Lacked For Information’ On Health Care Bill,” Real Clear Politics, January 5, 2010, downloaded from http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2010/01/05/
gibbs_public_has_not_lacked_for_information_on_health_care_bill.html on January 6, 2010.
22 “Barack Obama Campaign Promise No. 517,” Politifact, downloaded from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/promises/promise/517/health-care-reform-public-sessions-C-SPAN/ on January 6, 2010.
23 Patrick O’Connor & Glenn Thrush, “Nancy Pelosi takes swipe at President Obama’s campaign promises,” Politico, January 6, 2010, downloaded from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31180.html on January 6, 2010.
24 Eric Zimmermann and Michael O’Brien, “Pelosi tells C-SPAN: ‘There has never been a more open process’,” The Hill, January 5, 2010, downloaded from http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/74389-pelosi-responds-to-c-span-there-has-never-been-a-more-open-process on January 6, 2010.
25 John McCormac, “Pelosi Breaks Pledge to Put Final Health Care Bill Online for 72 Hours Before Vote,” The Weekly Standard, November 5, 2009, downloaded from http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/twsfp/2009/11/pelosi_breaks_pledge_to_put_he.asp on January 6, 2010.
27 “Pelosi Breaks Promise – Will Not Post Bill Online For 72 hours Before Vote to Swallow Health Care,” Youtube, downloaded from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3llUO7AWfI on January 6, 2010.
28 Harry Reid, “Health insurance reform will benefit Nevadans,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, December 13, 2009, downloaded from http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/health-insurance-reform-will-benefit-nevadans-79158317.html on January 6, 2010.
29 Perry Bacon Jr., “Small Group Now Leads Closed Negotiations on Health-Care Bill,” The Washington Post, October 18, 2009, downloaded from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/17/AR2009101701810.html on January 6, 2010.
30 Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery, “Senate Democrats largely support health-care deal that drops public option,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2009, downloaded from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/09/AR2009120904636_pf.html on January 6, 2010.