One Health-Care Promise Obama Can at Least Pretend to Keep

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"That's what I will do in bringing all parties together, not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are, because part of what we have to do is enlist the American people in this process." —Barack Obama, January 31, 2008, during a presidential primary debate with Hillary Clinton


Throughout Congress's long, often tortuous process of writing and wrangling over health-care reform, the preferences of Barack Obama have been confronted and vanquished by the political realities of actually passing the legislation. Most notably, Obama championed a public option, and though he frequently qualified his support by adding that the public option's objectives could be achieved through other means, he also repeatedly promised that a public option would be a part of the health-care bill he signs. Of course, that was before opposition to the public option among moderates in the Democratic caucus, clung to most steadfastly by Joe Lieberman, made its inclusion an impossibility.

Despite the disappointment of Obama's progressive base, and suspicions among some that Obama didn't really try hard enough, the death of the public option wasn't Obama's fault — securing 60 votes for the Senate bill was like herding egomaniacal cats with ulterior motives and rabies. But that makes it all the more important for Obama to at least make an effort — maybe even a token effort! — to keep the promises that are under his control. Such as the one he offered incessantly during the presidential campaign to hold negotiations on heath-care reform in front of C-SPAN cameras.

Those promises were brought back to the fore recently by a letter written by C-SPAN's CEO, Brian Lamb, to Congressional leaders of both parties, asking that they allow a C-SPAN camera to bear witness to the final stages of the reform process. Though John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have embraced the idea — not surprisingly, as they have nothing to lose — Lamb's office tells us that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have yet to respond.

It's no mystery why the Democrats would be apprehensive about opening up the ping-pong process they're using to reconcile the House and Senate bills. When Reid was squeezing out the final votes for the Senate bill, he had to buy off Mary Landreiu with $300 million and Ben Nelson with free Medicaid for life. In order to keep House members happy about swallowing the Senate's bill pretty much as is, Pelosi will be doing some major appeasing of her own. That's how the sausage gets made, and everyone knows it. But as anyone who's watched an informational PETA video can attest, you definitely don't want to actually see sausage getting made. Not to mention that the Democrats need privacy to get this done. It's how Congress operates at all times.

The difference is that this time Obama said it would be different. As we enter the home stretch of health-care reform, in which Obama intends to play an integral role, there's been no indication that the White House is considering finally upholding the president's promise. The least Obama could do is throw proponents of greater transparency a bone: allow cameras into some "official" health-care discussions, and continue arm-twisting, bribing, and placing severed horse heads in beds behind the scenes. Then we'll at least know that he cares enough about his campaign promises to humor us by mock-upholding them, as opposed to just ignoring them completely.