Critical Condition

Corruption

If I want to know what seems to be happening with negotiations to produce a final health-care bill, I ask a lobbyist. That’s not how President Obama said it would be back when he was a candidate. Everyone was supposed to have seen it on C-SPAN. Except C-SPAN got stiffed. The best the House leadership can do is promise to make the results of the negotiation available.

Meanwhile, there are media reports that hundreds of pages of the final bill have already gone to the Congressional Budget Office for “scoring.”

Secrecy in negotiations can be seen two ways. By one account, secrecy is a necessary tool for uncovering compromises in a negotiation. Another is that secrecy is the route for unseen powers to get what they could not get if the process took place in public. Candidate Obama took the latter view. He implied there had to be transparency to keep health-care reform from corrupting influences.  

When the results of the negotiations become public, Congressional Democrats will want to focus on a story line that emphasizes strong-arming obnoxious practices of insurance companies and new subsidies for the uninsured. They will face the problem that the president created legitimacy for another story line when he was Senator Obama, candidate for the presidency. What happened behind closed doors? What are the special deals? Do they represent compromise or corruption? The exceptions will get as much attention as the rules. The regular rules will be complex, and the fact that there are exceptions will itself show there are some special deals. President Obama’s framing of secrecy will make it that much harder for proponents of comprehensive health-care reform to sell the result to the American people.  

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