Johanns: Healthcare meetings a 'shameful' series of 'backroom deals'

Freshman Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) in this week’s Republican address condemned the healthcare bill merger process as a “shameful” series of “backroom deals.”

Johanns advanced a line of attack Republicans have used against Democratic leaders since the Senate Finance Committee just over two weeks ago became the last panel to pass their version of healthcare reform legislation.

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“President Obama has promised open deliberations in front of C-SPAN cameras for all Americans to learn how reform will impact them. However, a 1,500 page bill, full of carve-outs and backroom deals, is currently being brokered behind closed doors,” Johanns said. “We're about to significantly alter one-sixth of our economy -- now is not the time to shut Americans out."

Republicans have roundly criticized the merger negotiations headed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), saying that the closed-door meetings with other Senate leaders and White House officials shut out Republican ideas and lack transparency.

Two Democratic negotiators have fired back. Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said this week that the negotiations rank among the most transparent in which they have participated. Reid has also posted YouTube videos and Twitter messages following the meetings, though they have not revealed much substance.

But the former Nebraska governor hit on specific charges that senators have been able to insert provisions into the bill that ease the cost on their home states.

“Reports of this deal-making are shameful. Why do Michigan, Rhode Island, Oregon and Nevada get special deals on Medicaid costs? Why do New Yorkers with Cadillac plans get a pass on paying the tax? It is shameful,” he commented.

Johanns, who also served as Agriculture Secretary in the Bush administration, also argued against specific provisions in the bill such as the individual mandate and the potential elimination of before-tax Flexible Spending Accounts.

“The bottom line is this: We're nearing 10 percent unemployment. We have a record budget deficit, and many families are working hard just to put food on the table and to pay the bills. Yet, there's no doubt about it: These proposals will negatively impact pocketbooks and paychecks across America,” he said.