Cochran & Wicker Call For Open Process As Democratic Leaders Try To Merge Senate And House Health Reform Bills

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker today added their voices to a growing chorus of lawmakers asking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow open negotiations in the effort to merge the health care reform bills passed by the House and Senate.

Cochran and Wicker are among a group of Republican Senators who have signed a letter asking Reid to accept an offer from C-SPAN Chairman and CEO Brian Lamb to broadcast both formal and informal conference negotiations on a final health care bill.

“The closed-door process that led to Senate passage of a health reform bill was not in the best interest of the American people. As the process moves forward, I agree that transparency and openness would be beneficial so the public can understand the changes that Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi are trying to impose on the people and the health care system,” Cochran said.

“When he campaigned for president, then-Senator Obama promised transparency in negotiations over health care legislation by televising them on C-SPAN. What is happening now is the exact opposite. Democrat leaders have instead resorted to closed-door meetings that have led to a number of secret deals and favors to secure the votes of members of their own party. The American public deserves better,” Wicker said.

Both Cochran and Wicker on Christmas Eve voted against Senate passage of the health care bill (HR.3590).

The letter to Reid, authored by Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), said “an increased level of transparency” would be optimal for major legislation that will affect one-sixth of the economy and every American family, individual and business for years to come.

The letter notes increased public interest in the health reform debate as Democratic leaders attempt to cull together a single legislation package from the Senate and House plans, both of which were passed on party-line votes. The Democratic leadership has indicated that it plans to move forward in this process without calling for formal conference committee negotiations between the House and Senate.

“In the coming weeks, we ask for increased transparency in the process of merging the House-passed bill and the Senate-passed bill. Closed door negotiations and political kickbacks in exchange for votes do not meet the expectations of the American people,” the Senators wrote to Reid.

“To ensure that the American people have the ability to witness the on-going negotiations between the House and Senate, be it a formal or informal conference process, we ask that any negotiations regarding a final health care reform bill be conducted in the light of day,” the letter said.