Last week, the Senate Finance Committee voted down an amendment to the health care bill that had been proposed by Sen. John Cornyn (TX) and Jim Bunning (KY). The amendment should not have been controversial – it simply required that the Senate Finance Committee post on its website the final text of the health care reform bill and a final Congressional Budget Office score for 72 hours prior to a committee vote on final passage. Amazingly, the amendment failed 12-11, with only one Democrat crossing over to vote yes.

Instead, the committee decided it would post the “conceptual” language online along with cost estimates. Apparently the senators on the committee who voted against the amendment didn’t think posting the actual language would be worthwhile on the grounds that the average American wouldn’t be able to understand it anyway.

According to Sen. Bunning, “This is not a normal bill for us or for the American people. The devil is in the details. The way legislative language is written could have a large impact.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME), a swing vote in the health care debate, agreed with Bunning. “We should not be afraid of having a better and complete understanding of what we are all doing,” she said. “The fact is, words matter, and so do the numbers.”

The failure of this amendment is particularly disturbing considering the public had been demanding greater transparency throughout the summer, holding signs at rallies across the country urging legislators to “read the bill.”

The informed participation of citizens is vital to the success of any popular government, because without access to factual information there is no way of effectively participating in the political process. The importance of transparency in this particular bill can’t be overstated. Not only does it come with a steep price tag, it also threatens to usurp the rights of individuals to make their own health care decisions.

Without transparency, taxpayers are unable to hold their government accountable. Hopefully that’s not what is motivating our congressional leaders.

– Elizabeth Young