Secrecy, Even If It's Obama
by Josh Orton, Wed Jul 22, 2009 at 06:45:04 AM EDT
This is disappointing:
Invoking an argument used by President George W. Bush, the Obama administration has turned down a request from a watchdog group for a list of health industry executives who have visited the White House to discuss the massive healthcare overhaul.
The Secret Service sent a reply stating that documents revealing the frequency of such visits were considered presidential records exempt from public disclosure laws. The agency also said it was advised by the Justice Department that the Secret Service was within its rights to withhold the information because of the "presidential communications privilege."
Having promised transparency, the administration should be willing to disclose who it is consulting in shaping healthcare policy, said an attorney for the citizens' group. In its letter requesting the records, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics asked about visits from Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans; William Weldon, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson; and J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Assn., among others.
There's not much excuse for this. During the campaign, Obama loudly derided closed-door governing. In fact, it's still on his website:
- Lobbyists Write National Policies: For example, Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force of oil and gas lobbyists met secretly to develop national energy policy.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan
Bring Americans Back into their Government
- Make White House Communications Public: Obama will amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public.
- Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public: Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.
Back in primary season, Obama attacked Hillary specifically on healthcare reform transparency:
During one of the recent Democratic debates, Obama, criticizing the secrecy of Clinton's 1993 effort to reform healthcare, talked about how he would open up the entire process -- "Not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN ..."
To be sure, Barack Obama isn't Dick Cheney - the current White House isn't crafting policy with industry executives exclusively. But it's painful to see such an obvious gap between an inspiring campaign promise and a cynical governing reality.
The Bush Administration increased the power of the presidency while pushing public accountability farther away from that power. And given the enormity of the challenges Obama inherited, I'm sure there's temptation to retain at least part of that expanded authority...our new president needs all the help he can get.
But the long-term damage isn't worth it - Bush's abuse of power can't become precedent.