White House Secrecy In Dealings With Health Industry Executives

Remember Dick Cheney’s secrecy about meeting with his Energy Task Force? The Los Angeles Times is reporting a rerun, except this time it is Barack Obama and the health care industry:

Invoking an argument used by President George W. Bush, the Obama administration has turned down a request from a watchdog group for a list of health industry executives who have visited the White House to discuss the massive healthcare overhaul.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a letter to the Secret Service asking about visits from 18 executives representing health insurers, drug makers, doctors and other players in the debate. The group wants the material in order to gauge the influence of those executives in crafting a new healthcare policy.

The Secret Service sent a reply stating that documents revealing the frequency of such visits were considered presidential records exempt from public disclosure laws. The agency also said it was advised by the Justice Department that the Secret Service was within its rights to withhold the information because of the “presidential communications privilege.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics said it would file suit against the Obama administration as early as today. The group already has sued the administration over its failure to release details about visits from coal industry executives.

A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said, “We are reviewing our policy on access to visitor logs and related litigation.”

As a candidate, President Obama vowed that in devising a healthcare bill he would invite in TV cameras — specifically C-SPAN — so that Americans could have a window into negotiations that normally play out behind closed doors.

Of course Barack Obama is not Dick Cheney. Instead of using secret meetings to allow an industry to help set policy, Obama is presumably meeting with the health industry executives in the hopes of reducing their opposition to health care reform. While perhaps a noble goal,Obama should not forget his campaign promises regarding open and transparent government.

There is another difference between the current White House secrecy and what we saw under George Bush. On multiple occasions I have cited the secrecy of the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force, and conservative bloggers have come to their defense. In contrast, multiple liberal bloggers (via Memeorandum) are currently critical of this secrecy on the part of the Obama administration, supporting principle over party. Conservative bloggers such as Michele Malkin and James Joyner are also critical of Obama. What would they be saying if it was still a Republican in the White House?

Update: During the press conference Obama did state that the names were released. He also claimed that the meetings were open to reporters at the time. It will be interesting to see if Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics is now satisfied with the information released or if they are still being denied answers.

Housekeeping Notes: Update on The Blog Theme & Passing Two Million Page Views

Yesterday it became necessary to change the theme which the blog has used for quite a while. It appears that something in the last security upgrade to WordPress was incompatible with the theme and it was not appearing correctly under Internet Explorer.  I’ve been trying out multiple other themes and I also found that most other three column themes did not work correctly. (I thought I had one that did work for a while yesterday but when I got home and tested on a variety of computers systems I found that the one in use did not always work correctly with Firefox.)

The theme currently in use does not appear to have any problems, even if I am not totally happy with the look. I plan to stick with it short term while looking for alternatives. I figure that if the problem really was due to the WordPress upgrade others using three column displays will be having problems and at least some of the themes will be fixed. Another possibility is that the problem is due to one or more of the specific widgets I use in the blog being incompatible with the last upgrade. In that case I’m hoping they will be upgraded to fix this. If the problem persists I will also try turning off plug-ins and removing widgets one by one to see if removing specific ones will increase the themes which can be used.

One additional housekeeping note. Liberal Values passed two million page views earlier this week. This doesn’t even count the approximately seven thousand subscribers to the RSS feed, subscribers to the email edition, Kindle readers, those who read posts syndicated to newspaper web sites through Blogburst, or those who use the blog for reference through Newstex. While small compared to many of the huge blogs and those associated with larger organizations, it does show that there is still room in the blogosphere for small individual blogs.

Posted in Blogs & Social Media. Tags: . 9 Comments »

Taxation and The Battle over Health Care Reform

While it is still difficult to predict the final outcome, momentum for passing health care reform has slowed. Republicans have launched their typical misinformation campaign to scare voters. They continue to confuse the fact that the real changes are over how insurance coverage is handled. This is not a “government takeover of health care” or anything resembling “socialized medicine.” It certainly does not help matters when Republican politicians make uninformed and dishonest statements such as  claiming reforming health care coverage is comparable to placing health care under FEMA as Bobby Jindal does today in The Wall Street Journal.

Besides the endless number of dishonest Republican claims, there are also real concerns about the complexity of the plan and the cost. First Read points out a major problem in passing health care reform:

One of the bigger, but more under-reported, sea changes in American politics is how any kind of tax increase — whether in war or peace, good economic times or bad ones — has become absolutely unacceptable. After all, Ronald Reagan raised taxes. So did every modern American president involved in war, until George W. Bush. But not anymore. Indeed, as one of us pointed out on Nightly News last night, only 29% (or 157) of the 535 and House members and senators serving in Congress were around the last time — 1993! — the federal government raised taxes, and that was on gasoline. Think about that for a moment: Congress hasn’t really had a TOUGH vote in 16 years, if one defines a “TOUGH” vote as the government asking for a financial sacrifice from the American people. This is the political climate that President Obama faces in trying to pay for health reform. Republicans and some Democrats are opposed to a tax on the wealthy, and unions and Obama’s political strategists are against taxing health benefits.

While I am generally not a fan of big government programs and opposed HillaryCare, the situation with health care coverage has deteriorated to the point where government action is necessary. This is also something which costs money despite the claims of the Obama administration that health care reform can largely pay for itself. It costs money to provide coverage to those who cannot afford it, increase the delivery of preventive care, and improve health care information technology. We will not see the savings from improved preventive care and information technology for many years.

As I’ve noted before, reforming health care coverage is something which benefits everyone, not only the near one hundred million who are currently uninsured or under-insured. Having a society in which nearly everyone has health care coverage and nobody has to fear losing coverage due to developing a serious illness, losing a job, or desiring to change jobs is worthwhile but we must be willing to pay for it.

The chances of raising enough money to both achieve these goals and avoid the types of restrictions on care which Americans would not want to see imposed is greatest if the money for this can be raised by a broad based tax as opposed to pretending we can get all the money by taxing the rich alone. Unfortunatley this probably is not politically feasible as there would be protest over a tax increase on the middle class, even if it would be largely offset over time by both lower insurance premiums and ultimately lower costs from a more efficient health care system.

Earlier in the year polls did show that voters were willing to accept a tax increase to pay for health care reform. We are not seeing as many support this now. Some of this is for unavoidable reasons, such as belt tightening during a time of economic crisis and due to the scare tactics of the right wing. This is also due to a missed opportunity by Barack Obama to show true leadership.

If Obama had proposed a health reform plan and honestly discussed both the costs and benefits, he might have received support for the taxes needed to pay for this. Obama has done an excellent job of receiving support from groups which opposed health care reform in the past such as the American Medical Association. He could have further demonstrated a willingness to respond to the crisis by going beyond traditional partisan concerns by taking an even stronger position on malpractice reform. While Republicans do greatly exaggerate the role of malpractice on health care costs, the fact remains that reducing costs on defensive medicine does remain one of the easier ways to reduce costs without negatively impacting quality or patient choice.