Democrats defend closed-door process on health bill 

House Democrats huddled in private to decide what kind of compromise on health care legislation they would be willing to strike with the Senate while pressure mounts for them to end the secretive nature of the talks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her leadership team faced questions about openness after emerging from a closed-door meeting with top committee chairmen on legislation to overhaul the nation's health system.

Reporters demanded to know whether Pelosi would allow cameras to record the negotiations, a request made in writing early Tuesday by C-SPAN Chief Executive Officer Brian Lamb, who reminded Democrats of their earlier pledge to bring transparency to the health care talks.

Pelosi is also facing criticism from her most liberal faction, which wanted the health care compromise to be crafted in the traditional conference committee, not in private where it would likely be shaped to mirror the more moderate Senate health care legislation.

Liberals are angry that the final bill is unlikely to include a government-run insurance program.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a co-chair of the 83-member House Progressive Caucus, told Pacifica Radio that skipping the formal conference process in favor of closed-door talks was "an assault to democracy."

Pelosi defended the process, telling reporters the legislation has been aired at town hall meetings, congressional hearings and on the Internet.

"I completely disagree," Pelosi said in response to Lee's comment.

Pelosi hinted that the reason behind the approach was to pass the bill more quickly. If the two chambers met in formal conference, it would provide Senate Republicans opportunities to slow the process.

"We will take the route that does the job for the American people, that gets this job done in a timely fashion in a city where the special interests are so entrenched and would take any avenue in order to stop this legislation," Pelosi said.

While Pelosi would not completely rule out a formal conference, she all but conceded the final bill would not include a public option, saying she wanted a bill that would hold insurance companies accountable and increase competition.

"There are other ways to do that," Pelosi said. "We will have what we need to hold the insurance companies accountable."

The House and Senate bill contain "significant differences," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who pledged to move "very, very forcefully" in merging the two bills in the coming weeks.

Democratic leaders met with President Obama at the White House on Tuesday. House Democratic leaders will meet again Wednesday before holding a teleconference with every member of their caucus Thursday.

All of these meetings will be private, which prompted reporters to ask House Democratic leaders how they planned to keep the public informed of the developments.

"What kind of update mechanism will you have if cameras aren't allowed in the room?" one reporter asked the Democrats as they turned and walked away from the microphones.

None of them answered the question.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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