Behind closed doors

Obama has taken a lot of flack for breaking his campaign promise to negotiate the details of the health care bill in public. Famously, Obama made a back-room deal to limit the savings the health care bill would extract from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for their support.

Matthew Yglesias thinks secret negotiations are the way to go, despite Obama’s campaign promises:

[…] Think about a family negotiation over whose house you spend the holidays at, or who goes to watch Billy’s soccer game on Saturday. At the end of the day, wouldn’t everyone be worse off if the whole extended clan had the right to watch the negotiation on C-SPAN? More to the point, wouldn’t knowledge that the proceedings were going to be seen by others bias the negotiation. If your husband says “you don’t even like your cousin John” then you more or lesshave to protest and insist that you do too like him and any proposal predicated on the idea that you don’t like him needs to be rejected.

And that’s how it would go in negotiations. I think people think that if there was more transparency, the dread special interests would have less hold over the process. But I suspect the real result would be the reverse. What happens when you reach a compromise is both sides agree to sell some folks out in pursuit of some bigger objective they care more about. But in a transparent process, nobody would be willing to even hypothetically entertain the idea of selling anybody out.

This is totally backwards. For starters, our government shouldn’t be making deals with industry representatives over public policy. You don’t need the support of Pfizer to pass a health care bill, you need votes in Congress.

Secondly, public shame is a good thing! Say I’m wrong about not needing Pfizer to pass a bill. Isn’t it more likely any kind of deal with Pfizer made in public will be better for the American people? Pfizer wouldn’t want the bad publicity of selling out the American people, and neither would the President or Congress. And if a deal couldn’t be made in public, that’s better still! At least the American people would know that Pfizer was the bad guy standing in the way of reform.


  1. Ian

    Yglesias’s whole argument assumes that the “bigger objective” is what the people want and what is in their best interest. That is clearly not what happens in our government. Closed door negotiations between congressmen is maybe OK, but closed door negotiations between government and businesses is not.

  2. Chris

    Yes. Especially when the stakes are so high.