I was over on Capitol Hill the day after the Senate election in Massachusetts. Democrats didn’t appear to be in a very good mood. With just a few days distance from the election, I think that there is only one important lesson from it. It is not about Martha Coakley, it is not about President Obama and it is not even about the shape of the health care plans passed in 2009 in each house.
This election ought to be seen as a wake-up call about what used to be one of the most mind-numbing topics in America: the process of legislating. Time magazine’s Karen Tumulty nailed it on CNN when she reported that the people she was interviewing didn’t like the manner in which the health care bills were crafted. In other words, people don’t like government secrecy and they like it less if, emerging from the shadows, it looks like the bill has been encrusted with special favors. Congress may not be able to broadcast every negotiating session (since a lot of work gets done through chats on the subway that runs from the Capitol to the Congressional office buildings). However, if you refuse to allow coverage of much of anything that matters in negotiations, you will give the appearance of hiding everything that matters — whether that is true or not.
There is no reason to believe that the people don’t deserve a peek for 48 hours at the actual, final bill that is going to be voted on and the actual language of any amendments that will be considered. This should mean that when provisions of existing law are being modified, there should be a link to the extant law so that people who may not be familiar with Section 587, subsection (b) (iii) of some statute will know what in the world is actually being changed. This is not that difficult to produce. The legislature in Oklahoma, for example, has just such a rule.
Now, I wouldn’t want anyone to think health care policy of the Democrats is the only thing shrouded in mystery. The Bush Administration went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the right of Vice President Dick Cheney to canoodle with lots of energy bigwigs about setting that Administration’s policy. Do I think that little cabal had something to hide? You bet I do, and I think the American people would all be better off knowing what went on there — claims of executive privilege be damned.
So, Jay, let’s call for more openness from both parties, on all issues. As for Senator-elect Scott Brown, let’s hope that he is a senator who will look at policy development as a way to further the interests of all Americans — and not just one 41st member of what has increasingly become a chorus of naysayers.