Jan. 30, 2010 -- In a rare display of bipartisanship, a top House Democrat agreed to back a Republican lawmaker's quest for details of closed-door deals the White House made with industry insiders to produce a healthcare reform bill.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he'd help Dr. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) seek information on the names of representatives from the pharmaceutical, device, hospital, doctor, and insurance sectors, who met with White House officials regarding healthcare reform.
Waxman and Burgess said they will also request any written materials regarding the "sum and substance" of any deals made when the individual or groups met with a White House representative, and any "written materials memorializing any agreements that were provided to outside participants."
They said they will also request written communications between Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, and stakeholders from the healthcare industry.
It's no secret that the White House struck deals with various interest groups in order to win their support for overall healthcare reform.
"What we don't know is who made a deal with whom," said Burgess, an Ob/Gyn.
The Obama administration has been criticized by some of its own supporters for what they see as reneging on a campaign promise to bring to the office an unparalleled level of transparency.
At one point, Obama even told the nation that he would welcome C-SPAN cameras into healthcare negotiations that would normally be top secret.
But no C-SPAN cameras ever recorded the closed-door deals, much to the dismay of the president of C-SPAN, who sent a letter to congressional leaders in December asking for access to film healthcare reform discussions.
In September, Burgess sent a letter to Obama asking for details on deals struck at a May meeting at the White House in which stakeholders pledged savings of $2 trillion in reduced costs.
That meeting included representatives from the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the American Medical Association (AMA), America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the American Hospital Association (AHA), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
According to Burgess, after not receiving a response from the White House, he introduced a resolution to launch an official inquiry.
On Tuesday, less than 24 hours before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was scheduled to vote on the resolution, counsel for the White House sent Burgess 80 pages of public information, including White House visitor logs, speech text, and press releases.
"A far cry from the information requested" in the letter, Burgess said.
The White House introduced a new policy last year to list the names of all White House visitors starting on Sept. 15. In November, the White House released names and dates from an additional 575 individual appointments that were healthcare-related.
On Wednesday afternoon when the House Energy and Commerce Committee met, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee, informally agreed to sign off on another letter, but didn't endorse Burgess' resolution.
Waxman instructed the committee to report the resolution to the full House, but without endorsement, which means the House probably won't take up the measure.
Waxman said he'd work with Burgess to write a letter requesting the information instead of relying on the House to pass a resolution launching an official inquiry.
"A resolution of inquiry is a serious oversight tool and it should not be used unless other avenues to obtain information have been undertaken and exhausted," Waxman said.
Burgess' resolution would have encompassed notes of communication between the president and his chief of staff and other top advisers, presidential e-mails, and other high-level deliberations.
"There has been no showing -- or even an allegation -- of wrongdoing that would justify this kind of request," Waxman said.
Although his resolution essentially failed, Burgess said he was pleased with the outcome of the markup.
Waxman's agreement to work with him "somewhat surprised" him, he said, although Waxman has a long record of a "commitment to being open and above-board."
Indeed, Waxman has been an advocate of government transparency and has launched numerous inquiries, including an investigation of the FDA's handling of rosiglitazone (Avandia) after a meta-analysis linked the drug to increased cardiovascular risk.
During the markup, Republicans accused the administration of breaking its promise to increase transparency. Democrats, meanwhile, defended the White House for being significantly more transparent than the Bush administration.
The Bush administration came under fire for keeping a tight lid on negotiations that led to the formation of its energy policy. For years Reps. Waxman and John Dingell (D-Mich.) tried to get the Bush administration to disclose information from the closed-door meetings.
"The White House consistently rebuffed these requests," Waxman said.