Only One Maryland Voice at Health Care Summit
Insiders snorted derisively when candidate Barack Obama pledged to negotiate a sweeping overhaul of the health care system -- one-sixth of the American economy--in full public view. For good measure, he said, he'd televise the whole thing on C-SPAN.
That way, Obama contended during the 2008 campaign, "people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies."
Obama was eager to portray himself as a different kind of politician and offer a contrast with the back-room dealings of Republicans in Washington. It was part of the change he hoped voters would believe.
Many voters bought his argument (they burst into enthusiastic applause at campaign stops when he repeated the promise), perhaps without stopping to think that transparency may not always be the best way to get things done. What if the boss invited your co-workers into the room for that discussion you wanted to have about a promotion?
At any rate, Obama had to concede that he hadn't kept his promise to have "all the negotiations around a big table" on TV.
Not only were terms of the health care legislation hammered out in secret by congressional Democrats, but the White House itself cut back-room deals with key players, including the nation's hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry.
Thursday's bipartisan health care summit is a belated attempt to redeem the campaign pledge. Obama announced it not long after his Inner Harbor debate with House Republicans, which White House strategists regarded as a public-relations coup for the president.
Many see the day-long event, to be televised in full on a number of cable networks (though C-SPAN may have to carry it late, on tape, if the House and Senate are in session), as more show than substance.
Republicans, forced to participate to avoid being pegged as obstructionists, have let it be known that they aren't about to march into Obama's trap. They've appointed a "truth squad" to send out rebuttals as the summit is taking place.
Regardless of what does or doesn't get accomplished, the belated move toward transparency could have at least one unintended consequence: it may expose a number of congressmen and senators as much less powerful than they'd like their constituents to believe.
For more than a year, lawmakers from Maryland and around the country have boasted about the influential role they are playing in crafting health care legislation. But few of them will be sitting around that table at Blair House with Obama.
Nineteen senators (out of 100) were chosen by the Democratic and Republican leadership, none from Maryland. A total of 21 members of the House of Representatives (out of 435) were included.
That leaves nearly 500 congressmen and senators on the sidelines, forced to come up with an explanation if anyone asks why they weren't invited to the summit.
Only one Marylander made the cut: House Democratic Leader Steny H. Hoyer.