Broken Promises: Transparency

  VII. Key Issues: Regulation & Reform >> C. Health Reform >> Affordable Care Act (ACA) >> ACA Repeal >> Broken Promises >> Transparency (last updated 8.7.17) 

Obama’s Promise

“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” (January 31, 2008 campaign debate).  PolitiFact found four additional instances in which this promise was made in 2007 and 2008. President Obama also has asserted “This is the most transparent administration in history.”


Negotiations Largely Held in Secret

According to PolitiFact, (10.2.13), this promise was broken at both the executive branch level and congressional level: “Obama promised televised negotiations for the health care law, but that didn’t happen. Instead, his administration reached agreements behind closed doors with the drug industry and hospitals. In Congress, some of the committee bill writing sessions were open, but the most substantial negotiations took place privately, before bills came to committee or the House or Senate floor. We rated this Promise Broken.”

There were ample reports by the media in real time to support this conclusion:

  • McClatchy (7.9.09). “Throughout this year’s negotiations, however, the big deals have been struck in secret. With tax increases and limits on what’s covered among the possible ways of offsetting perhaps $1 trillion over a decade in expenses, neither the administration nor [the Democratic] Congress is willing to give up its right to do the most sensitive talking in private” (emphasis added).
  • Associated Press (7.21.09). “In cutting deals with hospitals and drug makers, President Barack Obama is giving a private inside track to special interests that’s at odds with his promise to make policy in the open” (emphasis added).
  • The New York Times (8.13.09). “Behind the scenes, however, Mr. Obama and his advisers have been quite active, sometimes negotiating deals with a degree of cold-eyed political realism potentially at odds with the president’s rhetoric. … Hospital industry lobbyists, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of alienating the White House, say they negotiated their $155 billion in concessions with Mr. Baucus and the administration in tandem” (emphasis added).
  • CBS News (9.21.09): “The president, members of Congress from both parties and special interest groups have indeed all participated in negotiations, but those conversations have not been broadcast. Instead, the president has announced deals with groups like the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance industry after they were worked out in backroom deals.”
  • Associated Press (11.25.09). “President Obama’s top aides met frequently with lobbyists and health care industry heavyweights as his administration pieced together a national health care overhaul, according to White House visitor records …. The records do not identify the visitors’ employers, say on whose behalf they were there or give any specifics of what was discussed” (emphasis added).
  • U.S. News Editorial (1.5.10). “In a December 30 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader John Boehner, C-SPAN Chairman and CEO Brian Lamb formally requested that congressional leaders open up the healthcare negotiations to the media. ‘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,’ Lamb wrote. ‘Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.’… Lamb’s letter has yet to receive a reply.”
  • The New York Times (6.24.10). “[T]he Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House has become a favorite meeting spot to conduct Obama administration business. … White House officials have met hundreds of times over the last 18 months with prominent K Street lobbyists …. [to discuss] front-burner issues like Wall Street regulation, health care rules, federal stimulus money, energy policy and climate control …. But because the discussions are not taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, they are not subject to disclosure on the visitors’ log that the White House releases” (emphasis added).
  • Jodi Kantor, The Obamas (1.10.12). “Eager to dismantle barriers to the legislation’s passage, Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina, a deputy chief of staff, had cut a quiet deal with pharmaceutical industry lobbyists” (emphasis added).

Democrats in Congress Facilitated Lack of Transparency

  • CBS News (9.21.09): “Meanwhile, Baucus, one of the most influential senators in the health care debate, not only shut out the public but shut out most of his own committee from his “bipartisan negotiations.” “We spent virtually an entire year with most of the Finance Committee being excluded,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) reportedly said after Baucus released his health care bill. “You don’t run a committee that way” (emphasis added).
  • The Daily Signal (12.19.09). “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has set the stage for a major vote Monday morning at 1:00 AM …. That would … set up a late-night Christmas Eve vote on final passage. … [T]hey will have had less than 38 hours to understand a 383-page amendment that introduces several new concepts into the health care debate” (emphasis added).
  • The Plum Line (1.4.10). “Looks like the Dem leadership’s plan to quickly pass health care reform by skipping House-Senate conference negotiations has further alienated House liberals …. A top House progressive … [is] claiming it will make it even tougher to improve the bill and slamming it for stifling real debate. … Rep Raul Grijalva, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, criticized the scheme and complained he hadn’t even been consulted yet: ‘…I and other progressives saw a conference as a means to improve the bill and have a real debate, and now with this behind-the-scenes approach, we’re concerned even more’” (emphasis added).
  • CBS News (1.5.10). In January 2010, C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb sent a letter to congressional leaders asking that they “open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage.” “Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.”  Mr. Lamb did note that “”literally hundreds of hours” of committee hearings, debate and meetings have been broadcast on C-SPAN through the health care debate, allowing journalists, bloggers, watchdog groups and citizens to follow the process.”
  • CBS News (1.6.10). “President Obama wants the final negotiations on health care reform – a reconciliation of the House and Senate versions of the bill – put on a fast track, even if that means breaking an explicit campaign promise. On January 6, 2010, House Speaker Nanci Pelosi announced at the White House: “The House and Senate plan to put together the final health care reform bill behind closed doors according to an agreement by top Democrats” (emphasis added).
  • Nancy Pelosi (3.9.10). “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
  • Wall Street Journal (6.14.17): Obamacare’s Secret History. “On Dec. 19, 2009, a Saturday, then Majority Leader Harry Reid tossed the 2,100-page bill the Senate had spent that fall debating and offered a new bill drafted in an invitation-only back room. Democrats didn’t even pretend to care what was in it while passing it in the dead of night on Dec. 24, amid a snowstorm, in the first Christmas Eve vote since 1895.”

Other Violations of the Spirit of Transparency During Health Reform Debate

  • Gruber Failure to Disclose Conflict-of-Interest. “MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the leading academic defenders of health care reform, is taking heat for failing to disclose consistently that he was under contract with the Department of Health and Human Services while he was touting the Democrats’ health proposals in the media” (Fox News, 1.8.10).
  • Gruber Admission That Lack of Transparency Was Deliberate and a Huge Political Advantage.
    • In a newly surfaced 2013 video uncovered by researcher Rich Weinstein, MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, one of the ACA’s principle architects, claims a “lack of transparency” helped the Obama administration and congressional Democrats pass the law. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber said. “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” (Daily Signal, 11.9.14)
    • New Republic‘s Jonathan Cohn has written a very detailed rebuttal to the claim that deception was systematically used to secure the enactment of the ACA.

Lack of Transparency Continued After Law’s Enactment

  • Lobbyist Meetings Shielded from Public View.
    • Politico (2.24.11). “President Barack Obama’s aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds — and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident. It allows the Obama administration to keep these lobbyist meetings shielded from public view — and out of Secret Service logs kept on visitors to the White House and later released to the public” (emphasis added).
    • Center for Public Integrity (4.13.11). “[T]he [White House visitor] logs are missing the names of thousands of other visitors to the White House, including lobbyists, government employees, campaign donors, policy experts and friends of the first family, according to an investigation” (emphasis added).
  • Stonewalling Congress.
    • Associated Press (3.12.11). “Republican congressional investigators got the brush-off this past week after pressing for details of meetings between White House officials and interest groups, including drug companies and hospitals that provided critical backing for Obama’s health insurance expansion” (emphasis added) .
    • CNBC (8.15.14). “[Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn] Tavenner’s email asking the subordinate to delete an email was turned over to the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, just a day after her staff told the committee that some copies of her email communications might have been lost. ‘Please delete this email,’ Tavenner wrote to then-CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille on Oct. 5, 2013” (emphasis added).
  • Lack of Transparency Over Health Exchanges.
    • Fox News (10/29/13). “The head of the agency responsible for overseeing the troubled repeatedly refused to disclose how many people have enrolled in ObamaCare — during a hearing where she did not deny that officials have that information.”
    • Associated Press (8.19.14)[T]he Obama administration has concluded it will not publicly disclose federal records that could shed light on the security of the government’s health care website because doing so could ‘potentially’ allow hackers to break in. … The AP is asking the government to reconsider. Obama instructed federal agencies in 2009 to not keep information confidential ‘merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.’ Yet the government, in its denial of the AP request, speculates that disclosing the records could possibly, but not assuredly or even probably, give hackers the keys they need to intrude.”
  • Secrecy Regarding Health Co-ops. “Secrecy shrouds President Obama’s $2 billion program to launch 24 new co-ops designed to compete with private insurance companies under the chief executive’s landmark health care reform.” (emphasis added) (Washington Examiner, 2.5.13).

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