ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports: Democrats quietly start to reconcile the divergent health care reform bills passed by the House and Senate, cutting Republicans, all but one of whom oppose the bills, out of the process.
Republicans are seizing on a request by the CEO of CSPAN to put the Democrats’ closed-door negotiations on TV.
House Minority Leader John Boehner today accused Democrats of attempting to “shut out the American people at the most critical hour by skipping a bipartisan conference committee and hammering out a final health care bill in secret.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered Democratic leaders and Committee Chairmen in her office this afternoon to plot how they’ll negotiate with Senate Democrats to merge their variant health reform bills.
The meeting took place behind closed doors in Pelosi’s Capitol Building office. And the negotiations between House and Senate Democrats are likely to take place behind closed doors too.
After today’s meeting in the House, even as she promised that whatever bill is produced will get a “Triple A rating” and provide "Affordability" for the middle class, "Accountability" for insurance companies and "Access", she did not bend on doing her negotiating in public.
The CEO of CSPAN, Brian Lamb, called on Democrats last week to allow CSPAN cameras into their health reform negotiations as they meld the two bills. CSPAN is a private company funded by cable companies that broadcasts House and Senate proceedings as a public service.
“President Obama, Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-file members, 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 the critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American,” wrote Lamb in a letter to Congressional leaders from both parties.
But negotiations have grown increasingly delicate as the process has moved forward. Senate Democrats wrote the final version of their bill entirely behind closed doors before releasing to the public online several days before passing it Christmas Eve.
It was pointed out to Pelosi by reporters today that President Obama, on the campaign trail, promised the health reform process would happen in front of TV cameras.
"There are a number of things that he swore on the campaign trail," Pelosi said jokingly .
Besides, she argued that the process has been transparent up until now .
"There has never been a more open process for any legislation," she said, also arguing that placing legislation on the Internet before it is voted on represents “another town venue.”
She and Rep. Chris van Hollen, who is in charge of plotting House Democrats’ reelection strategy, argued that hearings on health reform throughout the year, markups in the Spring and town hall meetings in August make the reform process unprecedented in its openness.
Pelosi indicated that a public option health insurance option to complete with private insurers was not necessary to make the legislation effective. The House bill includes a public option and many progressive Democrats are insisting on one, but the idea lacks the votes to pass in the Senate.
"We will have what we need to hold the insurance companies accountable. I contend that whatever we have coming out of this bill will hold them accountable and they’ll be crying out for a public option," she said.
In addition to reaching compromise on the public option, House and Senate Democrats will have to find agreement on other key differences, like how ironclad to make a ban on public funds going to insurance companies that offer abortion coverage and, most importantly, how to pay for the proposals’ nearly $1 trillion price tags.
Both chambers envision cuts to Medicare spending, but they diverge on tax increases. House Democrats put a new tax on wealthy Americans. Senate Democrats would levy a tax on insurance companies that provide all-inclusive benefits plans that are thought to drive health costs up.