Congress' handling of health care legislation is front and center in the concerns of the American people. Since July 2009, my congressional office has received more than 1,000 letters a month from constituents regarding health care. No other issue is even close. And now, at the very moment a final decision will be made on that legislation, which affects each and every one of us, the American people will be shut out of the process.
To reconcile the vast differences between House-passed and Senate-passed versions of health care legislation, Democratic congressional leaders have decided to negotiate behind a wall of secrecy.
Though the normal process to merge these bills would involve bipartisan review and formal debate, Democratic leaders instead chose to hold private meetings hidden from the media and the public.
The consequences are enormous. This legislation fundamentally alters the health care of every single American and reorders one-sixth of our nation's economy. The American people have the right to know what decisions are being made.
At this stage, Congress must combine two, 2,000-page bills, which feature very different approaches to health care, each with an uncertain number of outcomes for Americans. The House bill cuts more than $400 billion from Medicare and creates more than $500 billion in new taxes for small business and individuals. The Senate bill taxes the health insurance plans of one in five American workers and moves 9 million to 10 million Americans from employer-based health insurance into the government-run insurance exchange.
Yet despite repeated pledges from then-candidate Barack Obama to televise health care negotiations on C-SPAN and in spite of an open invitation from the president of C-SPAN to televise the heath care negotiations, Democratic leaders adamantly refuse to televise the meetings or open the process to the public.
When asked if she planned to honor the president's pledge to have the negotiations on C-SPAN, House Speaker Pelosi actually laughed and said, "The president made lots of promises during the campaign."
Perhaps the Democrats are concerned with fallout from the secret deals sneaked into the Senate health care bill. In exchange for key votes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid inserted sections to provide certain states with special funding at the expense of taxpayers in other states. This legislative approach is a disservice to the American people.
The Democrats claim that health care legislation is critical and must be passed now or never. Yet recent polls demonstrate that a clear majority of the American people are opposed to the health care plans before Congress and concerned with the consequences. According to a CBS News poll conducted from Jan. 6-10, just 36 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of health care, whereas 54 percent disapprove.
A recent Rasmussen poll also shows that 57 percent of Americans think these plans will lead to higher health care costs and 52 percent of Americans believe these plans will lead to a decline in the quality of care. And a recent Quinnipiac University poll demonstrated that 73 percent of Americans don't believe the president will be able to keep his promise to overhaul health care without increasing the federal deficit and 56 percent of Americans don't want the overhaul if it will increase the deficit.
So while millions of Americans have voiced their opposition to a government takeover of health care, Democrats in Washington either didn't get the message or don't like it.
In the face of widespread and persistent objection to their health care plans, congressional Democratic leaders owe it to the American people to open the decision-making process to the light of day.
To paraphrase an American leader, Ronald Reagan, who placed great faith in the American people: "Mr. Obama, tear down this wall of secrecy."