By Governor Christine Todd Whitman
January 13, 2010

I’m mad, and I know I’m not alone. With a dismissing snicker, Speaker Nancy Pelosi very publically undermined one of the central pledges that President Obama made to the people of the United States. When asked by a reporter about C-SPAN’s request to broadcast the deliberations on healthcare reform – a promise President Obama made on the campaign trail – Speaker Pelosi could only laugh and say that the President stood for “a number of things” while he was on the campaign trail.

In fact, at least eight times during the campaign then-candidate Obama promised an open and above-board discussion of health care reform – and those eight promises are just the ones news organizations could easily find on video. Now, in addition to breaking that commitment to openness yet again, the President has done nothing to assure the public that he will push back on either Speaker Pelosi’s or Senator Reid’s decision to hammer out the details of the final healthcare bill excluding the Republicans entirely.

I’m not naïve – I understand the arguments the Democrats are making in their heads or in public to justify their behavior:

• The Republicans are only interested in obstruction and haven’t offered any acceptable language. That is in the eye of the beholder as there has been some very positive language offered by the GOP. There are also noticeable gaps in the current bills such as tort reform – a key driver of health care costs.
• The Republicans excluded us from deliberations when they held the power. The GOP did at times, but do two wrongs make a right? And I would argue that healthcare is far too important a piece of legislation to be lowered to this standard.
• We need to get this to the president’s desk by the State of the Union. Why? I understand momentum and “striking while the iron is hot”, but this is a critical piece of legislation that will affect Americans for generations. The bill can only benefit from a full discussion – that is, if Democrat leaders actually want to reflect the views of a majority of Americans, not just themselves.

I actually agree with the decision to keep cameras out of the room while the conference committee meets on this bill. If we want any kind of honest policy discussion there needs to be some privacy; otherwise all we will get is political posturing. That being said, I resent the fact that there will be no Republican voice at the table. That decision by the Democratic leadership effectively disenfranchises the constituents represented by any Republican whether they voted for them or not. Since I doubt very many members have read the whole 2,000+ pages of this bill, the more perspectives that are brought to bear, the better the end product will be.

Democracy is a funny thing – it is no doubt complicated and messy at times. There are, however, certain principles that should apply whatever the issue: the people deserve to be heard and their voice is found in all their elected representatives, not just some of them representing only one party. You could say that the Republicans have marginalized themselves by some of their actions, but that is a feeble excuse and a discussion for another day. Today we need to get back to basics. Healthcare reform is needed and we should be able to have it soon, but it should not come in a vacuum.

President Obama needs to remember the promise he made to the American people when he started on this journey. It is his responsibility to remind his party that this is a democracy – they don’t rule the world.