A quick search for the word ‘transparency’ on the White House website brings up 769 results. Over and over again, the White House mantra is repeated that the goal is “to increase transparency, collaboration and participation in government.” Despite this pledge, President Obama and his Democrat peers met behind closed doors this week to negotiate differences in the health care bills passed by the House and Senate. Subsequently, this video made the rounds on the internet, showing the President promising over and over again to open up negotiations to the public by allowing C-Span cameras to record the process.
But, despite his vow and the media and public disapproval of the current process, this will not be the first time that the President has broken this particular promise. Back in February of 2009, the same issue was brought up as it related to the negotiations of the stimulus package. Note in the following line of questioning, Gibbs’ answer that the President was pleased with the product and with the process.
Q I just wanted to try again on the issue of the open conference committee question. We just didn’t really resolve it the other day. I mean, on the transition website it said explicitly that the President wanted the conference committee process to be open to the public. In light of that, how does he feel about the conference committee process this week on the stimulus which was, even to apparently some members of the conference committee, not open? And going forward, does he intend to fulfill that promise?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I haven’t seen the particular comments. Obviously the President hopes for greater openness and transparency in government. Whether it’s the transparency that’s part of this bill or transparency that’s part of conference committees, whether that transparency — obviously there’s a lot of things that he believes can be improved. And I think that’s something that we’d like to continue to see.
We talked about — and something that we’re struggling to implement that we talked about during the campaign, which was putting legislation on the web — non-emergency legislation on the web for five days before it’s signed. The White House is struggling with trying to figure out how to do that in a way — when do you do it, how do you do it, what do you put up.
So I think all this is a work in progress. And as I said, it will take probably longer than a few weeks to change how this place works.
Q Was he satisfied with the process this week?
MR. GIBBS: Ask me that when the Senate finishes and we have something.
Q I mean the conference –
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think the President is happy with the product that Democrats and Republicans put together.
Q The process, not the product.
MR. GIBBS: The process and the product.
Q Robert, some White House aides participated in that conference committee process, meeting, negotiating behind closed doors, in some sense, I guess, validating that process. I mean, could they not have been insisting upon a more open process where C-SPAN cameras come in and record that, as the President promised to do on health care negotiations?
MR. GIBBS: Unclear if Rahm could satisfy some FCC requirements. (Laughter.) But I think the President is, as I said, pleased with the –
Q Cable. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the FX channel, unfortunately, is what we’re going to do. (Laughter.)
He’s pleased with the process and the product that has come out. And I think when the process is done, I think the American people will be proud of the product that we believe and we hope will begin to stimulate the economy, get people hired, back to work, and moving things forward, and putting people — putting money back in their pockets.
You don’t have to know much about politics to note how Gibbs dodges this line of questioning from the get-go. First, he states he’s unfamiliar with any complaints about the process. Then, he emphatically states that the President was proud of the process. Then, when directly confronted with the President’s promise to allow C-Span cameras to record and broadcast negotiations, after making a few quips, he repeats the President’s satisfaction with the process and posits that despite the lack of sunshine along the way, Americans will be happy with the end results. In other words, the means justify the ends.
After all, what’s one pesky broken promise? Except that this was one of the cornerstones of the President’s campaign, ushering in a new era of openness and transparency. But now that he’s at the helm, he didn’t just break his word, he urged Democrats to push the bill through and quickly behind closed doors. In the era of Obama, speediness trumps open dialogue about legislation. When public support isn’t on your side, the need for speed to get a bill on the President’s desk becomes priority number one, taking a backseat to bothersome details like cost and a piece of legislation’s effect on personal liberty, taxes, the deficit and our health care system in general. It’s get the bill through at all costs and preferably before the State of the Union. And some of us thought things couldn’t get any worse…