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.

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7 Comments

  1. 1
    James Joyner says:

    My analysis, in its entirety:

    The state of the law on these matters is murky and I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the idea that presidents ought to be able to invite industry types in for consultation in making policy in an atmosphere that maximizes frank exchange.  But the degree to which incoming administrations come to find practices they had vehemently objected to quite useful is astounding.  Indeed, what frequently happens is that the worst behaviors become the new baseline for what’s acceptable and the pushing of the envelope commences from there.

    I’m not sure how I could apply the standards more evenly.
    You, by contrast, seem to suggest that Obama’s doing it is fine and Cheney’s isn’t because you trust one’s motives and not the other’s.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    James,

    “I’m not sure how I could apply the standards more evenly.”

    The question is not how you would respond at the moment when Obama is in office but how conservatives responded when Bush was in office. (I’m speaking of conservative bloggers in general–I don’t know what you specifically said about secrecy when Bush was in office and this may or may not apply in your case.)

    “You, by contrast, seem to suggest that Obama’s doing it is fine…”

    Not at all. I am critical of Obama for such secrecy (even if the situation is different between now and with Cheney).

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    “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.”
     
    “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?”
     
    Obviously, James Joyner can speak for himself, I won’t speculate about what he would say. Michelle Malkin is fairly predictable, though: she’ll support any Republican who follows the party line on the culture war and world domination while attacking any Democrat unless they are a conservative voting with and standing up for Republicans. It’s not about policies (beyond the culture war and world domination) or about ethics, it’s purely political Malkin is essentially an attack writer for the neoconservative bloc of the GOP. I don’t even know how much her own political views come into the matter, she (like many other conservative wriers) is a throwback to the writers/editors of the political newspapers that various parties sponsored to attack the other party and defend themselves before the big newspaper revolution of the Progressive Era.
     
    Malkin is paid to do a specific job and she does that job, because it’s her job.
     
     
     

  4. 4
    nomoreGOP says:

    “Malkin is paid to do a specific job and she does that job, because it’s her job..”
    And apparently self respect and dignity went out the window along with honesty and patriotism..
    But I guess a job is a job..

  5. 5
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    I haven’t followed Michelle Malkin much, I know she is conservative, really good looking, and I’m sure her reporting has bias in it.  But that being said, the last thing I heard about her was that she ripped to shreds Mr. Anti-stimulus money Governor from S.C. for having an affair. Thats an easy one to pull punches on if you don’t want to damage the conservative cause.  I don’t recall Bush campaigning on transparency.  Of course I’ve got to give Obama credit about being much more transparent on his racial views now.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    Attacking Sanford is hardly a sign of willing to break with the conservative movement. In general she can be counted on to support the GOP line.

    Right wing talk radio and Fox have certainly said a lot of ridiculous things regarding Obama and race since his press conference. They just don’t learn that their nonsense might excite their base but otherwise turns off most of the country.

  7. 7
    Eclectic Radical says:

    “Attacking Sanford is hardly a sign of willing to break with the conservative movement.”
     
    Indeed, the state party is pissed at Sanford for blowing his job to get laid even if none of the good old boys care he got laid. Because of the politics in South Carolina (in which the Republican Primary is frequently the real election in many districts), Sanford’s opposition is primarily from Republicans not included in his administration rather than a strong Democratic opponent with a statewide base. The South Carolina state party is divided into pro- and anti-Sanford factions and the main leader of the ‘Burn Sanford At The Stake’ campaign right now is a Republican assemblyman. So, while the party line is blurry, attacking Sanford is not deviating from the party line noticeably. It’s simply taking sides in a party’s dispute.
     
    Given Malkin’s adherence to a brand of conservative feminism increasingly popular in the South, it only makes sense for her to attack Sanford… though at least one conservative feminist of which I know is choosing to blow off the whole matter as well. It’s really a messy issue for the GOP in South Carolina.
     
    So attacking Sanford is not proof that she is breaking party lines at all, particularly since she praised his anti-stimulus stand.
     

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