While most everybody aside from elected Democrats is willing to acknowledge that President Obama broke his pledge to have C-SPAN cover the health care talks, the one thing that he could still theoretically argue is that he doesn’t have control over whether Congressional leaders allow negotiations to be televised. This is partially how he responded when asked about the C-SPAN pledge at a July press conference (from the official White House transcript):
With respect to all the negotiations not being on C-SPAN, you will recall in this very room that our kickoff event was here on C-SPAN, and at a certain point you start getting into all kinds of different meetings — Senate Finance is having a meeting, the House is having a meeting. If they wanted those to be on C-SPAN then I would welcome it. I don’t think there are a lot of secrets going on in there.
It’s a typical Obama answer. First, creating the false sense of transparency (“our kickoff event was here on C-SPAN”). Next, making the issue sound much more complicated (“at a certain point you start getting into all sorts of different meetings”). And finally, pretending that he isn’t President and suggesting somebody else is responsible for the decision (“If they wanted those to be on C-SPAN then I would welcome it.”)
The kick off event, of course, was a joke — there’s a reason C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb called it “a show horse type of thing.” I happened to have been there, too. Basically, the event started with Obama delivering some remarks. Then a bunch of people representing insurers, drug makers, hospitals, unions, etc. broke into separate rooms and discussed general principles — some of those break out sessions were televised. Then Obama gathered everybody back in the East Room, summed up some of the discussions, and the various participants stood up and talked about how they looked forward to working to get health care legislation done. As I wrote at the time, those advocating a free market approach to health care were shut out of the process.
So then most of the action moved toward Congress, and the President has no control over what happens on the Hill, right? Er, not exactly. As the New York Times reported in August: “Pressed by industry lobbyists, White House officials on Wednesday assured drug makers that the administration stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion.” (Emphasis mine).
And then yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and all the heads of the relevant committees met for eight hours in the White House. The Hill reported that, “President Barack Obama sought to muscle House and Senate Democrats to reach an accord on healthcare reform during a daylong White House meeting Wednesday.” So in other words, Obama was leading the talks himself, from the White House, which he has absolute control over, and yet he still wouldn’t allow C-SPAN cameras in. In fact, while he, Pelosi, and Reid released a statement saying that they had made “significant progress,” they weren’t offering any details. So instead of having the open process that Obama promised during the campaign, we get paragraphs like this from the Hill story:
While aides shed no light on the substance of the discussions, a senior House aide said the appearance of the key participants working into the night left the impression that Obama was looking to “force some decisions and that takes a lot of time.”
Or this line from the Politico: “Those involved in the talks sought to keep details of their progress under wraps.”
Just for fun, let’s watch candidate Obama again: