By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Barack Obama campaigned on making government more open and transparent. With an electorate soured on the Bush administration and concerned that administration policies were not transparent, it was a message that resonated with the American people.
Obama and the Democrats have not, however, governed as they campaigned. Openness and transparency exist in theory and talking points, not in practice.
We saw another example Wednesday afternoon, as Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee almost unanimously voted to defeat an amendment offered by retiring G.O.P. Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning to require that the exact language of any healthcare legislation—and the bill's cost estimate—be placed on the committee's website 72 hours before a final vote in committee.
Not surprisingly, John Cornyn's team at the National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately pounced on the vote, criticizing those, including North Dakota Democrat Sen. Kent Conrad, voting against the Bunning Amendment.
It's hard to find a rational reason to oppose such a measure. It provides more openness and transparency to legislation that could have an important impact on the healthcare of every single American. At a time when many complain that the American electorate is uninformed, providing more information—letting them know what is going to be voted on—should be a political necessity.
This isn't the first time Republicans have complained about a lack of information or being shut out of the process. Democrats, you'll recall, drafted the 1,500 page stimulus bill behind closed doors, introducing it at 2 a.m. for a vote the next day.
Congressional Democrats typically give one of two responses to Republican complaints a lack of transparency: (a) Republicans behaved in the same fashion and (b) healthcare reform is too important to slow down even to allow the public know what's about to happen to them.
These arguments fall short. While Republicans often jammed through legislation, that's part of what Democrats campaigned against. And while healthcare is indeed an important issue, it apparently isn't so important to keep Democrats from missing two self-imposed deadlines and arguing with each other over the "public option."
Healthcare reform language will be released at some point. Democrats should have learned from the stimulus outcry and town hall tempers that the public wants to know what Congress is planning to do for/to them—especially if it involves keeping a major campaign pledge.