Rep. Michael Burgess couldn't believe his ears. He'd just been read President Obama's words in Strongville, Ohio, yesterday. At a campaign-style rally, the president had said that "We’ve ended up with a proposal that incorporates the best ideas from Democrats and Republicans."
Burgess's reaction? "If I was Joe Wilson, I could do it in two words," he told me.
Burgess, a soft-spoken doctor, has worked on health care issues extensively in the seven years since he replaced former Republican majority leader Dick Armey in Texas's twenty-sixth congressional district. He chairs the Congressional Health Caucus and sits on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. He rejects the notion that Republicans have no health care ideas, ticking off bipartisan support for S-CHIP, Kennedy-Kassebaum, the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, tort reform, and Health Savings Accounts. His "Prescriptions for Health Care" include insurance and tax changes, interstate competition, medical liability reform, and price transparency. He's a serious guy with serious proposals. Obviously, he's been totally shut out from the health care debate.
Soon after Obama's election in November 2008, Burgess reached out to the White House transition team. He'd heard Obama's promise of a new, "post-partisan" Washington and was interested in contributing to the health care discussion. The Obama camp wasn't so interested. Burgess says he heard "zilch, zip, nada" in response. When the 111th Congress went into session in January 2009, Burgess made similar overtures to Rep. Henry Waxman, who chairs Energy and Commerce. He got a similar result.
President Obama has never called Burgess to talk about health care reform. The closest the two have come to a discussion is when Burgess submitted a question over the Internet during one of Obama's YouTube townhall meetings. The inquiry had to do with tort reform. Obama dismissed it with a non sequitor.
So much for bipartisanship. What about transparency? Last September, Burgess wrote a letter to the White House asking for information on the spring 2009 meetings between administration officials and special interests like the pharmaceutical lobby. He wanted to know who was there, what had been said, and what deals had been made. Of course there was no response.
So last December Burgess went ahead and introduced a resolution of inquiry demanding the White House release the information. On January 26, the day before Energy and Commerce was going to mark up the resolution, Burgess finally received an answer from the White House. It wasn't what you would call "detailed." Later, in a statement, Rep. Joe Barton characterized the message as "warmed over press releases and Web site material."
Burgess says he was flummoxed: "You're telling me, no one wrote anything down?" So on February 18, with Chairman Waxman's support, the full committee sent another letter to the White House asking for details. No doubt the White House will be even less helpful this time around. Such is life when you're a well-meaning Republican in Obama's Washington.