“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”
—-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in her speech before the 2010 Legislative Conference for National Association of Counties, dicussing the need to pass health care reform.
Many, including me, assumed that reports and YouTube clips of this comment were just typical examples of the increasingly common deceitful tactic of taking one sound bite out of context to make the speaker sound irresponsible or, in some cases, unhinged. But read the speech: Pelosi really is asking her audience to trust her, the House, Senate Democrats and President Obama to pass a sweeping, life-altering, expensive and vaguely defined law, that the legislators haven’t read and the public cannot begin to comprehend. Ezra Klein, in his policy blog for the Washington Post, concludes today’s post by writing,
“Gallup’s poll is evidence, first, that the public is closely divided on health-care reform, and second, that many of those in opposition do not know that much about the bill.”
That is true, but misleading. All evidence also suggests that the supporters of the bill know just as little about it. Time after time, members of Congress who are quizzed about the health care reform particulars have retreated to platitudes and generalities, as indeed does Pelosi in her speech. When Rep. Cantor had the effrontery to refer to the text of the Senate bill in the so-called health care summit, President Obama admonished him and the Washington Post called it a “prop,” though the paper later apologized. He actually wanted to read from the bill. The Horror.
Americans should be able to trust their elected representatives to run the government, although recent revelations from the statehouses and Congress strongly suggest that this may no longer be prudent or possible. When proposed legislation is significant and transformational, however, American have a right to know exactly what their representatives are considering, and be able to express an informed opinion about whether they are comfortable with the details where, as we all know too well, the devil resides. Pelosi’s remarks not only reject this core democratic principle but presume that it doesn’t exist.
This would be arrogant and disrespectful to the public even if, as was promised by the President, the process of developing the bill/bills/combined bills/White House cut-and-paste of the bills/final bill was open and transparent, and it was not. It would be presumptuous even if Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had handled the health reform process in a manner respectful to contrary opinions and public reservations, and they did not. It would be an unfair position if the final bill was a thousand pages long, and it is, at last count, more than 2,700 pages and growing. It would be an irresponsible position even if the nation had no fiscal deficit at all, rather than being trillions in debt as the country is.
Pelosi is asking for trust to a degree that is offensive to democracy, presuming instead a competent autocracy with superior virtue and intelligence. I have seen no evidence of that from our current leaders. I have seen much evidence to the contrary…and so have you.
A free democracy guarantees self-determination, due process and autonomy. Forget about the virtues or flaws of Obamacare, whatever it is. The process has been an offense to democracy, and both Houses of Congress have proven lazy, corrupt, dishonest and undisciplined. Show me a bill where the numbers add up and the measures address the problems in the system, that I can read and understand myself, and then prove to me that its supporters have read more than ten page summaries concocted by biased staff-members. I’ll support the bill, because we do need health care reform. But don’t tell me to trust people who have proven themselves untrustworthy to pass a law before they will let me know what is really in it.
The amazing thing, to me, is that so many people are willing to do what Pelosi demands, as wrong and offensive as it is.