Health care talks need disinfectant

Health care reform compromise talks between the House and Senate bill versions need a heavy dose of disinfectant or, in other words, plenty of sunshine.

During the campaign, candidate Barack Obama touted openness in government. He said, “I’ll make our government open and transparent so that anyone can insure that our business is the people’s business.” Obama continued by saying the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant.”

The crowd cheered.

Obama continued in lofty tones, “And as president, I’m going to make it impossible for Congressmen or lobbyists to slip pork barrel projects or corporate welfare into laws when no one is looking because …”

He paused and the crowd cheered some more.

Then, Obama said resolutely, “When I’m president meetings when laws are written will be more open to the public. No more secrecy. That’s a commitment I make to you as president. No more secrecy.”

Obama spoke this promise easily on the campaign trail but appears to have no intention of keeping it now he’s in office.

At present, House and Senate Democrats are preparing to bypass the formal House-Senate conference process. There differences between the two bills would have been negotiated by senior lawmakers from both parties. The new plan is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and other top Democrat leaders in the House and Senate will hammer out the differences with President Obama in their own private meetings. Their success would be followed by a quick vote.

Quick and hidden tactics are counter to democracy. Instead, democracy is messy. It requires openness and time to get it right. Democrats are acting scared that Republican lawmakers could muster the votes to block, delay or force politically challenging votes in both houses. They are also acting like they are hiding something from the public.

It’s still not too late for Obama to lead the Democrats in doing the right thing. At least, he needs to assure plans go forward for a formal House-Senate conference committee with senior lawmakers from both parties involved and the typical public meetings included. But, he could open up government a lot more. Now, will he?

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