Demand Real Transparency in Health Care Reform

BlogHer Original Post

C-Span CEO Brian Lamb sparked huge debate in the media and blogosphere when he asked Congressional leaders to let his cameras into lawmakers’ final negotiations on health care reform.

Republican opponents of health care reform quickly leaped to echo Lamb’s request. House Speaker John Boehner saidAs 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.” Peter Suderman at Reason Magazine pointedly linked to a clip of then-candidate Barack Obama promising on the campaign trail to open health care reform deliberations to cameras.

The Democratic leadership did not respond directly. Igor Volsky at the left-leaning “Wonk Room” went so far as to write that “when it comes to legislating, transparency is overrated.” 

 On the one hand, it’s great to see such vigorous debate about transparency and the arcanities of legislative process. On the other, it’s discouraging to see the banner of “transparency” waved only when politicians of either party figure it will help their cause. My colleague Paul Blumenthal does a great job here of explaining how the highly charged partisan dynamics in Congress now mean that all incentives work to discourage the minority from any form of cooperation with the majority. And another colleague, John Wonderlich, writes thoughtfully here about how if the goal is—as I hope it is—an open process on health care reform, simply insisting on an open conference committee won’t necessarily get us there.

Recently, when I moderated a series of conference calls with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle  on health care reform for Blogher and the Sunlight Foundation, most of the lawmakers went on record saying how important they think transparency in the legislative process is. That’s the easy part. The question is, will they support measures that increase openness that matters, and whether or not they think it will help their partisan agenda at that particular moment.

 One of the most important means to bring transparency to the legislative process is the passage of a rule requiring legislation be publicly available for at least 72 hours before consideration. No matter where the cameras are placed, it’s impossible for them to capture all the horse-trading that goes on where they can’t reach. But if we have access to final bill language, we will see it in the fine print of any legislation that is put forward to debate. So beware of partisan posturing, and demand transparency that will enlighten us all.



Nancy Watzman

consultant, Sunlight Foundation Because MUCK doesn't scare MOMs