Right-wing media ignore weeks of open debate, GOP actions in accusing Democrats of legislating "behind closed doors"


Right-wing media have repeatedly advanced the claim that Democratic lawmakers have shown a lack of transparency while crafting legislation on health care reform, often claiming that the legislation is being decided "behind closed doors." But these assertions ignore both the weeks of open debate in committees both in the House and Senate, and examples of Republican lawmakers forgoing transparency while in the majority.

Conservative media outlets accused Democrats of crafting health reform in secret

Dobbs surprised "lightning didn't strike [Hoyer] down." On the October 29 edition of his radio show, Lou Dobbs "[couldn't] find words" to describe how "outrageous" he found remarks by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. After playing audio of Hoyer calling the process of drafting and negotiating the House health care reform bill "deliberative, transparent, and open -- the most deliberative, transparent, and open process I have seen for any bill in my 29-year career," Dobbs expressed surprise that Hoyer "said it with a straight face" and that "lightning didn't strike him down."

Washington Times: "Health reform written behind closed doors." An October 26 Washington Times article criticized Democrats for meeting in closed sessions, stating, "By day, Democrats tout how open they have been while crafting a bill to reform the nation's health care system. By early evening, they're behind closed doors." The Times quoted House Minority Leader John Boehner saying, "They're writing a health care bill in secret," and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) saying, "We're about to significantly alter one-sixth of the economy, and if there was ever a need for transparency it is now."

Hannity: "We plan to shine the spotlight on their controversial plans." On the October 20 edition of Fox News' Hannity (accessed via Nexis), Sean Hannity promoted his upcoming special "Universal Nightmare 2.0" by claiming that Democrats are "try[ing] to ram that legislation through Congress behind closed doors. We plan to shine the spotlight on their controversial plans."

Fox News' Cavuto "unveils" "exclusive" House Republican Conference video. Fox News host Neil Cavuto has repeatedly accused Democrats of legislating behind closed doors, even going so far as to dub the Senate Finance Committee's health care reform sessions as "door-gate." In one such instance, Cavuto "unveil[ed]" a video produced by the GOP entitled, "Behind Closed Doors." Cavuto spent consecutive days exploring the "door-gate," and on his October 26 show, Cavuto took the analogy literally, featuring John Galka, owner of a New Jersey "Mr. Handyman" franchise, to explain how a locksmith would open a closed door.

Conservative media repeatedly hosted GOP lawmakers to attack Dems over transparency

Pence: "[W]e really don't know what's going to be unveiled." On the October 28 edition of Fox News' On the Record (accessed via Nexis), responding to the question, "[D]o you expect the [House's health care reform] bill that comes out tomorrow to have a profound difference from what at least the expectation out of the committee has been?" Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) claimed, "I think it's troubling to millions of Americans that after committees did their work this summer in the House and Senate, this thing when behind closed doors over the last month-and-a-half, and you know, we really don't know what's going to be unveiled on the West Front of the Capitol tomorrow."

Pawlenty: "[W]e don't know because they're doing it behind closed doors." On the October 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) responded to a question about how the Senate opt-out compromise would work by stating, "Well, as with all this stuff, we don't know because they're doing it behind closed doors and only presenting outlines and having verbal, you know, press conferences. So we haven't seen much."

Gregg: "I'd like to be able to find the room where the music is." Using a metaphor for bipartisan cooperation, on October 28, Fox News' America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer asked Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), "Are you not in the mood to dance? Or what's the story?" Gregg replied: "Well, I'd like to be able to find the room where the music is. You know, you've got door-gate over there, but, you know, we can't find the room where they're even writing the bill, you know. We're not allowed in the room. We're not told what's happening. They're writing this bill behind closed doors."

But much of the work on health care has occurred in public view

Nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation commends House on transparency in health care debate. The nonpartisan group Sunlight Foundation, an organization committed to transparency in government, said of the House committees on Education and Labor and Energy and Commerce: "Those following the health care debate should be thankful that two of the three committees that marked up the bill in the House are exceeding their peers in online disclosure. The ability to have all the information on the legislative path of such important legislation is vital and it's great to see the efforts of a few years of advocating for better committee transparency pay off." The organization was referring to postings on the committees' websites outlining all committee transactions and amendments.

Hoyer notes House committees "have spent 160 hours on hearings and markups of health care legislation." In an effort to provide transparency in the health care debate, Hoyer posted the bill in its entirety 72 hours before a vote. On October 29, Hoyer outlined the attempts to ensure transparency in the process: "Democrats have held 100 hearings on health care since 2007. This year alone, we held close to 3,000 health care events in our districts. Three committees have spent 160 hours on hearings and markups of health care legislation. Much of the legislation that is being announced today has been available for review and comment for more than three months."

And, GOP members participated in closed-door meetings during the health care reform process

"Gang of Six" negotiations held behind closed doors. The bipartisan Senate group known as the "Gang of Six" met for weeks to discuss the Senate Finance Committee's health care reform proposal. The Gang of Six included Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (IA), Mike Enzi (AZ), and Olympia Snowe (ME), and the Republicans involved repeatedly threatened to derail the reform process through hours of closed-door meetings with Senate leaders.

GOP was criticized for lack of transparency when it was in the majority

Republicans repeatedly rushed legislation through Congress. While in the majority, Republicans often rushed bills through the voting process. In each of the following bills, Republicans formally introduced the language of the legislation within 36 hours before calling for a vote, leaving little to no time for legislators to discover what had been written: the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which also created the loophole that exempted Enron from regulation on energy trading; the House version of the 2006 Military Commissions Act; and the House version of the 2006 Secure Fence Act. The House voted on its version of the bill creating the Medicare prescription drug benefit program (Medicare Part D).

Boehner claims his party's troubles with transparency were in "a different time." On the October 7 edition of On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren asked Boehner: "All right. When your party was in leadership in the House and there were issues about transparency, any recollection how you handled it? Did you guys resist it at all?" Boehner replied: "Well, it was a different time. I can tell you when I was majority leader, at the time, in almost all cases, I insisted that members have at least 24 hours to read the bill before it came to the floor. But it's a different time."

Hill editorial: GOP's 2003 appropriations bill was "crafted in haste behind closed doors and passed just before the President's Day recess." A February 26, 2003, Hill editorial (accessed via Nexis) criticized GOP "cheerleading" over passing an appropriations bill, claiming, "Nevertheless, it proved patently impossible for all but a few insiders to make any sense of a 3,000-page omnibus bill, crafted in haste behind closed doors and passed just before the Presidents' Day recess."

The Hill: "The foiled promise of bipartisanship." A December 13, 2000, Hill article (accessed via Nexis) reported on the "foiled promise" of then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) to "usher in a new era of civility and bipartisanship." As an example, The Hill cited a bipartisan effort to pass "meaningful campaign finance reform" and reported that "Republican leaders later killed these bipartisan achievements behind closed doors."

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.