From the President’s State of the Union speech:
To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.
That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online.
It’s ironic this statement comes on the same day that Henry Waxman’s Energy and Commerce Committee makes a bipartisan request for information meetings that the White House held during May and June of 2009 with PhRMA, the hospitals, the AMA and others when the secret deals memorialized in the Senate bill were cut.
“There is a legitimate need for transparency regarding health reform,” Mr. Waxman said in statement at a panel meeting on the request.
The person who was charged with cutting those deals at the White House was Rahm Emanuel. “Obama’s White House is run by Rahm Emanuel,” said the NY Times. He proudly “runs the [health care] campaign out of his West Wing office.” The Hill refers to him as “one of the principal architects of healthcare reform” who “played a crucial role in striking an accord with the pharmaceutical industry earlier this year.”
But if you look at the White House visitor logs for those months, there are only 11 meetings listed for Rahm, one of which was with his brother (the agent):
|1||6/30/2009||Stephen Cohen||Brookings Institute|
|John Podesta||Center for American Progress|
|Judy Feder||Center for American Progress|
|3||6/25/2009||George Kaiser||George Kaiser Family Foundation|
|Erin Shields||Baucus Aide|
|Jon Selib||Baucus Chief of Staff|
|5||Nicholas Malkovitch||Baucus Assistant|
|6||6/9/2009||Jonathan Lavine||Bain Capital|
|7||6/1/2009||Lewis Sachs||Counselor to the Treasury Secretary|
|8||5/28/2009||Lewis Sachs||Counselor to the Treasury Secretary|
|9||5/27/2009||John Podesta||Center for American Progress|
|11||5/9/2009||Jon Huntsman||Governor of Utah|
It appears from these limited records that Rahm negotiated the health care bill primarily with unions, think tanks and Hill Staffers. There are no lobbyists listed other than Rahm’s friend Joel Johnson of the Glover Park Group, but the White House later said that meeting never took place. Billy Tauzin, head of PhRMA, apparently visited the White House 11 times. Somehow Rahm, who played a “critical role” in striking the PhRMA deal, is never listed as meeting with him.
The lack of disclosure regarding Rahm Emanuel’s participation in these deals is merely symptomatic of the problem, however. The White House began releasing full visitor logs starting in September, but has never offered more than selective disclosure about which stakeholders were there during that critical time early in 2009. Moreover, the first visitor logs records released by the White House included more detailed descriptions of meetings (which often showed [REDACTED] content, including a meeting on 11-MAY-09). The current White House visitor records include highly sanitized versions (if any) about the nature of the meetings.
Why the change to less information rather than more?
The Obama White House has certainly been better about transparency than Dick Cheney’s black hole, but their commitment seems to be to the idea rather than the spirit of transparency. The whole point of requests for release of the logs was to shine light on deals that have been cut, and yet the White House has adamantly refused to provide any information on them.
Lack of transparency with regard to deals cut in secret is one of the factors that has made the public mistrust the administration’s health care bill. Release of those records could do much to allay many fears.