October 21, 2009
Shortly after being sworn in as the 44th president , Barack Obama said, "Let me say it as simply as I can. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."
Powerful and important words. But it's becoming painfully clear that the rhetoric about greater transparency isn't being carried out in reality. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current debate over how best to reform our country's health care system.
For the past few months, Congress has been feverishly working on how to cover the estimated 45 million Americans who lack health insurance. And since both sides of the political aisle have vastly different ideas about how to cover the uninsured, it will be difficult to find consensus on how to repair our health care system.
Yet even in a town where consensus is so elusive, greater transparency in the legislative process should be an issue all sides can agree on. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.
The unwillingness to open the doors of the legislative process to the American people was most recently on display during the Senate Finance Committee bill markup. Among the flurry of amendments offered was a proposal by Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning that the bill (or the legislative framework the committee was considering) must be posted online for 72 hours before any votes.
Unfortunately, that amendment for increased transparency was defeated on a largely party-line vote.
While Americans always deserve transparency from our elected officials, this is especially important as Congress sets out to drastically overhaul our country's health care system. After all, this industry accounts for roughly one sixth of our GDP. That's about the size of England's entire economy. In this light, it's easy to see why some members of Congress have been reluctant to hand over the president a blank check to overhaul the country's health care system.
We should thank our country's founding fathers for their work in framing our federal government. From the beginning of our country's rich history, the founders believed in the idea that our government worked best when it governs by "the consent of the governed." That means members of Congress must frequently run for re-election and gain the necessary support from their constituents to keep their jobs.
Consequently, members of Congress are encouraged to consult with their constituents before voting on important matters.
In other words, consent matters. But you can have true consent only if the people know what the laws being passed contain. If legislators refuse to post their bills for people to see, consent is impossible. The rule of law, and consent of the governed, are intrinsically connected principles.
How best to reform our nation's health care system is a critical and complex issue that requires careful study. Any of the proposals Congress is currently studying would be expensive -- costing close to $1 trillion in the next 10 years. Since our country already faces a massive budget deficit, the consequences of Congress' actions will have a lasting impact.
Therefore, it's only appropriate that we demand increased transparency in the legislative process. As you read this, only a handful of representatives and President Obama's leading advisors are working behind closed doors writing legislation that will change our lives for years to come.
President Obama should live up to his promise for a more transparent government as our country finds itself at this critical crossroad. And we should remind members of Congress to consult with their constituents before voting for a massive expansion of the federal government that would only add to our national debt while raising our taxes.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in The Americano