Health care secrecy robs public of knowledge

Polls indicate most Americans still want various elements of health care reform, they just don't know where they'll get it or whether they can afford it.

Or even what it is the Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., are arguing about.

No wonder another poll, by Rasmussen Reports, found a plurality of Americans think a Congress made up of people chosen at random from telephone books would be better than the bunch we've got.

Secrecy, despite promises of openness, marks the negotiations occurring in Washington between members of the House and the Senate and, perhaps the most powerful and important negotiators of all, the lobbyists for the health insurance and drug companies.

In other words, you can't get clearance to talk about health care with most of your elected representatives unless you're paid $300,000 a year to thwart real reform. (And are, of course, a big campaign contributor.)

It is a huge disappointment for Americans, especially those who voted for Barack Obama because they wanted better health care provisions for the uninsured and the underinsured.

Obama promised the discussions would be open and transparent.

That's when he was running.

He's since learned that a mandate from the people crumples before the might of aroused lobbyists and the collusion of cowed politicians.

No wonder the TEA Party people seem to be in the ascendancy, as David Brooks noted in a column recently; they're the only ones with backbones.

And what's going on in these secret congressional sessions?

Well, turn to Washington state's attorney general to find that out.

Rob McKenna and his cohorts from a dozen other states -- all Republicans -- are threatening lawsuits over the immoral, unconstitutional, cynical part of the legislation that exempted Nebraska from paying a penny of its share for the changes that might come with health care reform.

It was the price demanded by Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, to support his own party's legislation. It could be described as a $100 million bribe to be paid to Nebraska voters to keep Nelson in office.

Nelson, by the way, is a former insurance executive.

Just how secret are these negotiations?

The Wall Street Journal reports that C-SPAN, "which has steered an apolitical course through countless campaigns," has asked to broadcast "live television coverage of the endgame negotiations on health care legislation."

The fumbling answer funneled back from Sen. Harry Reid's office is noncommittal.

President Obama said in a 2008 presidential debate, according to the Journal, that a health care overhaul would not be negotiated "behind closed doors but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so the American people can see what the choices are."

Yet here we are.

The great health care reform was expected to be a tsunami of progressive legislation.

Instead, Americans see a legislative beach at low tide, polluted with political posturing and pandering to special interests.

When or if any bill passes, Democrats in Congress will hail it as a victory. Republicans, who have offered nothing but criticism (somewhat understandable, since they can't get behind the secret doors either) will claim it as a failure.

And Congress, with too many members whose only moral code is to get re-elected, will claim a job well done.

The people, bless their souls, will wonder how much longer they have to put up with such cynicism.