There have been plenty of complaints about the health care debate not being transparent enough, and that President Obama and the Democrats have not included the Republicans enough in piecing together legislation for a health care bill.
There have been accusations that the president has not kept his word. For example, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz tried calling the president out in a question at the Republican retreat a couple weeks ago.
“When you stood up before the American people multiple times and said you would broadcast the health care debates on C-SPAN, you didn’t,” Chaffetz said. “And I was disappointed, and I think a lot of Americans were disappointed.”
Fair enough. Although the majority of the congressional hearings and committee meetings dealing with health care were, in fact, televised on C-SPAN. I guess the question for critics of this sort is how do you logistically make sure that every meeting is televised? Should every single hearing be televised? What about unofficial talks before actual meetings? Conversations? Opinions? I am as big a supporter of transparency as anyone, but it undeniably gets a little messy.
But now, perhaps in response to the criticism, the White House has invited congressional leaders of both parties to a summit to discuss health care with the hope of moving forward and making health care reform a reality. And yes, it will be televised in its entirety.
Unbelievably, almost immediately Republicans criticized the gesture. The talking points were heard far and wide, migrating from Fox News and the EIB Network directly into Republican leaders’ mouths. “It’s a trap,” they said, typically followed by “I don’ t know what to expect.” There are also fears the president is trying to “intimidate” the Republicans and Americans into a “government takeover of health care.”
From what we know about the debate, it is hardly a trap. By the time it takes place, Republicans will have had nearly three weeks to prepare. The Democrats’ updated bill will be posted online before the gathering, challenging the Republicans to put forward legislation of their own. Both parties were allowed to choose additional participants and staff members specializing in health care policy. In other words, if Republicans are caught by surprise or feel trapped, it will be their own fault.
Republicans are acting like they’re new to debate — or politics, for that matter. A televised debate with more than enough time for preparation is not a trap. Republicans complain about the health care process going too fast, but cannot get enough time to prepare for a debate on a policy we have steadily been talking about for over a year now? Isn’t that the point of debate, to present your proposals and see who has better ideas? Doing an interview with Stephen Colbert is more of a trap than the White House summit will be. (Chaffetz has done an interview with Colbert, by the way.)
Having a couple weeks to get ready for a televised, transparent debate on the people’s health care policy is not a trap. Public policy debate is not a trap. It’s part of open democracy.
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus.
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