January 11, 2010

January 11, 2010 | Commentary on Health Care Reform

Obama's Keeping Secrets: So Much for 'Transparency' Claims

On the campaign trail in 2008, Senator Barack Obama famously proclaimed that his health care negotiations would be "televised on C-SPAN." It was part of his pledge to make openness and transparency a priority of his administration.

We wish.

In reality, the president has tossed aside his campaign rhetoric and dropped a veil of secrecy over issues that scream out for public participation and representative government.

The secretive and non-transparent procedures used to ram ObamaCare through the Senate are the most high profile examples of how this president treats his promise of transparency. In October, President Obama sent a team of his highest ranking health care officials to secret meetings with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

White House officials Nancy-Ann DeParle, Peter Orszag, Rahm Emanuel, Phil Schirilo and Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were dispatched by the President to negotiate the Senate version of ObamaCare in partisan, secret talks.

Not only were the American people barred from participation, but members of the president's own party claimed to be in the dark.

"We're all being urged to vote for something and we don't know the details of what's in it," Sen. Evan Byah of Indiana told McClatchy on Dec. 15, nine days before he voted for the bill. "Now, I haven't seen the Senate bill. Have you?" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wondered on Dec. 16. "Nobody has seen it. I don't know who has seen it, but I haven't seen it."

Obama has certainly shifted gears from a year ago. As the newly sworn in chief executive, he published a memo in the Federal Register saying, "My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration."

But health reform isn't the only place Obama has broken that promise.

You might think high-profile gate crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi have gotten more than enough coverage. Yet it's important to learn how, in this era of heightened security, they managed to sneak into President Obama's first state dinner. The House Homeland Security Committee wants to debrief White House social secretary Desiree Rogers.

Instead, the Obama administration claimed that the Separation of Powers protected Rogers from testifying. That's just silly. Rogers isn't protecting national security; just Obama's schedule.

Equally foolish is the workshop on "openness in government" the administration held last month. It was closed to the pubic.

Supposedly, participants were learning how to deal with Freedom of Information Act requests. But Obama's track record so far isn't good. The Associated Press reports the administration had to be subjected to threatened lawsuits and multiple press calls before they released information on "whether lobbyists and donors meet with the Obama White House." It's no shock to learn they do.

The glaring exception to the new era of secrecy extends to classified information.

At the end of December President Obama declared that "no information may remain classified indefinitely." The New York Times reported, "In an executive order and an accompanying presidential memorandum to agency heads, Mr. Obama signaled that the government should try harder to make information public if possible, including by requiring agencies to regularly review that kinds of information they classify and to eliminate any obsolete secrecy requirements."

Over-classification of information is a problem. Yet it seems that this administration is bending over backwards to disclose classified information on national security, when at the same time it treats health care negotiations, testimony about the Gate Crashers and lobbyist meetings as if they are highly classified.

This past week, the administration kicked off 2010 by having closed door meetings with Senate and House leadership on ObamaCare, while ignoring a letter from C-SPAN requesting access to the health care negotiations.

Think they'll let us even read the bill before they subject us to it? Hope springs eternal.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Brian Darling Senior Fellow for Government Studies
Government Studies

Related Issues: Health Care Reform

First Appeared in New York Post