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Transparency and the health care debate

Richard Eckstrom, S. C. Comptroller

As I sit down on a Thursday night to write this weekly newspaper column, much of this week’s talk on TV centers around the health care debate going on in Washington.

In the interest of openness, let me state upfront that I am strongly against the legislation which appears to be speeding toward passage -- aptly regarded by many as “socialized medicine.” But tonight, something else ways heavily on my mind: the apparent decision to hold important discussions about this legislation in private.

According to news accounts, the President and the leaders of the House and Senate seem intent on bypassing the normal procedure for passing laws. Instead, they’ll hold their deliberations behind closed doors, effectively shutting out the public from one of the largest public policy negotiations in history.

Even the cable news network C-SPAN has challenged House and Senate leaders to open the discussions to the public. The network wants to televise them so that regular citizens sitting in their living rooms can see what their elected leaders are trying to do “on our behalf” and how they go about doing it.

In a letter urging Congressional leaders to allow the process to be televised, C-SPAN wrote: “President Obama, Senate and House leaders and the nation’s editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the nation’s health care system. Now that the process moves to this critical stage… we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.”

I have long believed that transparency is one of the keys to sound government. When decisions are made in the open, public officials are usually more accountable, and tend to serve the interests of those they serve. That’s why, here in South Carolina and across the country, there’s a refreshing movement afoot to pull back the curtains of government so that it operates in full view of the public. In the past couple of years, there has been significant progress made. By holding healthcare reform talks behind closed doors, House and Senate leaders are undermining that progress, setting a terrible precedent, and doing a disservice to the American people.

In addition, many Americans have well-founded fears about how this legislation will affect them. Secrecy certainly does nothing to alleviate those fears.

On the campaign trail, the President spoke often of “transparency.” He was even so specific as to say C-SPAN would televise each step of the healthcare debate. Now would be the time to fulfill this campaign promise and turn his words into deed.

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