The Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Baucus, Obama, and Reid promote backroom "bipartisanship" at the expense of open government and democratic debate

As originally posted in the reader-diary section of; the post’s 2009 comment thread is available at that link.

The last public testimony-gathering hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, or any of its subcommittees, regarding health insurance reform? May 12, 2009.

The first public meeting of the Senate Finance Committee to democratically debate and mark up (amend) health insurance reform legislation? On some unknown future date, more than eight months into 2009, contrary to a “schedule” that promised otherwise:

Senator Grassley and I have laid out a schedule to do just that. Our schedule calls for this committee to mark up a comprehensive health care reform bill in June. We should put a health care bill on the President’s desk by July 4.

Chairman Max Baucus, March 10, 2009

How can this be? Ask George Bush, Kit Bond, Jay Rockefeller, or Harry Reid, who successfully played a very similar game of inverting, and subverting, the legislative process, while recklessly breaching the separation of powers, when they used the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Rockefeller to force through “reform” (with telecom immunity) of FISA, in October, 2007. That telecom-immunity-laden FISA “reform” was a permanent replacement for the Protect America Act, and was passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee 3 months after the PAA was forced through Congress on the cusp of a month-long August recess, undebated and unexamined by those legislators responsible for its enactment.

For those who weren’t following closely at the time, we learned a bit about the (non-public) manufacturing and subsequent passage of the FISA Amendments Act in the Senate Intelligence Committee, thanks to the frustrated comments of Russ Feingold in the subsequent, public FAA mark-up in the Senate Judiciary Committee to which it was (purportedly) sequentially referred [Feingold, Feinstein, Whitehouse and a few Republicans sit on both committees]. Feingold revealed, basically in passing, that the Intelligence Committee was effectively presented with a fait accompli – a completed FAA bill, basically the Bush White House-written bill – by Jay Rockefeller and Kit Bond, which Rockefeller and Bond then insisted the committee pass essentially as was in the name of bipartisanship.

Meaning that, in practice, no meaningful committee amendments (unless endorsed by both Bond & Rockefeller) were to be entertained on this vital bill, for fear of disrupting said purportedly-delicate “bipartisan” deal (bipartisan meaning one Republican and one Democrat), per the dictate of Chairman Rockefeller. Disgracefully, most of the Democrats on that vital intelligence oversight committee simply went along with Rockefeller’s autocratic command (partly in hopes, it’s true, that they could remedy problems and actually offer amendments in the sequential referral of the bill to the Judiciary Committee – but, as we know, Harry Reid had the last laugh on that plan…). And thus the FAA bill was promptly passed out of Rockefeller’s Intelligence Committee 13-2, with all but two Democrats (Feingold and Wyden) voting in favor – upon which it was immediately, and repeatedly, hailed by its proponents as a triumphant and overwhelmingly “bipartisan” achievement, and declared essentially unimprovable by further (or any) amendment…

Talk about the bastardization of democratic process and the deliberate subversion of full and fair legislative debate and amendment.

Well, it’s now the Senate Finance Committee’s turn to undemocratically invert the legislative process, as part of the Democratic Party’s effort to reverse-engineer in private a health insurance reform bill, working backward from a pre-determined outcome dictated by Party, not by principle or merit, or by independent thinking or informed debate by our federal representatives in Congress.

Former Republican Party Leader Mickey Edwards:

Granted, there are distinctions in political philosophy that draw people to one party or the other, but it is nonetheless clear that there is far less independent thinking going on than good governance would demand.


Loyalty to party undermines the very essence of representative government, which depends on entrusting members of one’s community to act in one’s stead. What author Peter Shane labeled Madison’s Nightmare has come true: We live in a world of constant partisan warfare, a never-ending battle between clubs, undermining the belief that a citizen’s vote truly counts for something.

For months now the full membership of the Senate Finance Committee has allowed itself to be idled, while pathetic authoritarian followers in Congress publicly (and no doubt privately) assert, apparently without the slightest twinge of self-awareness or self-reproach, or with any appreciation for the precious gift of self-government, Leader Knows Best. Such shameless followers demean the whole concept of a self-directed legislature and government, as they irresponsibly urge their colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee to simply do as they are told by their betters in the Party – Obama, Reid, and Baucus – so as to maintain order and harmony in the land of corporate milk and honey…:

Jon Tester gave a speech at a fundraiser where he gave the conventional MT line that we need to unite behind our leaders who know what they are doing… – montanamaven

[Well, perhaps that’s the way things used to work in Montana, but things may be changing in that proudly self-reliant state…]

What kind of democratic legislature does its (real) business wholly in the dark, except for the occasional planned press leak? More to the point, why on earth do we uncomplainingly accept such secrecy-cloaked behavior from our Congress – or, worse yet, from our President, who is apparently secretly dictating outcomes to our Congress while pretending not to be??

As Scarecrow rightly says:

Baucus’ Gang of Six deliberations have been done entirely behind closed doors, in violation of every principle of open government and accountability. You and I don’t know what they’re giving way, and even other members of Senate Finance have been kept in the dark


It’s time to open the doors and windows and let in some sunshine. Shut down the closed meetings and end the insider deals. Publish the proposals coming from lobbyists and reveal all the deals and demand the Senate conduct the public’s business in public.

The corrupt, secretive and unrepresentative Gang of Six process is an affront to American democracy, and the White House endorsement and manipulation of that cabal is a shameful disgrace.

Here are the members of the actual Senate Finance Committee [the six in bold are the only ones – since Hatch recently dropped out of the undemocratic dealmaking – admittedly involved in the private, evidently White House-controlled discussions about health insurance reform]:



Are Senators Rockefeller (the overridden chair of the finance committee’s health care subcommittee), Kerry, Lincoln, Wyden, Schumer, Stabenow, Cantwell, Bill Nelson, Menendez, and Carper holding their rubber stamps at the ready? Or do they have enough self-respect for themselves and the public trust they hold to demand regular order in their committee and in the Senate on this historic, and complex legislation, never mind what Party toes they step on in the process of asserting their individual powers as “an independent, constitutional entity whose authority is derived from [their] constituency”?

The Senate HELP Committee, under the guidance of Chris Dodd, completed its work weeks ago, after considering hundreds of amendments offered by Democrats and Republicans. Dodd’s committee conscientiously crafted its bill in a genuine bipartisan spirit of debate and amendment that puts to shame the Senate Finance Committee’s bad faith pretensions of backroom bipartisanship:

There were 23 of us who worked on that bill. We spent 5 weeks, 60 hours, 23 sessions—the longest markup of a bill in the history of that committee and, we are told by some, maybe the longest markup in the history of the Senate on a single bill. We had 800 amendments filed, and 300 were actually considered. Some 160 amendments of my friends on the Republican side were agreed to and included in our bill, making it a better bill and a stronger bill. I welcomed their participation. But here we are, 3 weeks later, still stymied [by the failures of the Senate Finance Committee, under the direction of the White House and Reid], unable to come together and shape a bill that would provide the relief so many people seek in our country.


I thank MIKE ENZI, my colleague from Wyoming, the ranking Republican member, along with his colleagues on the Republican side. They did not vote for the bill in the end. I regret that. But they made contributions that made it a stronger and better bill.

But let’s come back in September and get the job done. – Chris Dodd, 8/6/2009

Come September, will Harry Reid and the rest of our Senators pay heed to the federal legislator Chris Dodd, and allow Senators to genuinely debate – in public – and contribute to health insurance reform? Or will Reid and Baucus and their democracy-spurning colleagues continue to slavishly serve the President and the Party, at the expense of their own individual consciences and democratic will as Constitutionally-empowered federal representatives entrusted with acting in the best interests of the American people?

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