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What happened to Obama's promise of open government?

By Gloria Borger, CNN Senior Political Analyst
  • Democrats planning closed-door talks to reconcile House, Senate health bills
  • Gloria Borger says excluding Republicans is natural since they'll reject the bill anyway
  • She says Obama promised a government that would draft laws openly
  • Supporters could be disillusioned that promise of change wasn't carried out, Borger says

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "Campbell Brown," "AC360°" and "State of the Union With John King," as well as during special event coverage.

Washington (CNN) -- After months of writing a huge health care bill largely behind closed doors in the Senate, now comes the decision to work out the final kinks in the massive bill in a conference committee -- behind closed doors.

Maybe it shouldn't stun us. After all, the Democrats didn't expect any help from the Republicans, anyway. And why should they? They haven't gotten any so far, and that won't change.

The GOP has found a pretty good gig in dissing President Obama and the Democrats as big-spending, deficit-producing, high-taxing liberals. They're not about to give up the golden message now -- particularly when it appears they're heading into a very lucrative campaign season.

So the Democrats will hold an "informal" conference so they can fast-track the process. After closed door meetings to reconcile the bills, the House would then pass the Senate bill (already amended with new compromise provisions). Then, the package would be sent back to the Senate for a final vote.

Presto, health care reform.

The Republicans will complain, which is to be expected. But they're not on terra firma on this one, given that none are expected to vote for any final product, no matter what it is.

The folks who could get truly shafted here are the liberal Democrats, who have already lost their public option -- and are bound to lose even more in this process. The president has promised (finally) to truly lead in these discussions -- and he likes the Senate version of reform better than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's vision.

But here's the real problem for the president: It looks tacky. It's not exactly the way he promised Washington would work. Or, as a clearly miffed Pelosi put it yesterday, when asked about the president's campaign pledge to keep government an open book: "There were a number of things he was for on the campaign trail." Ouch.

Let's review. During the campaign, candidate Obama chastised Vice President Dick Cheney for presiding over "secret energy meetings" with oil executives at the White House. Yet in June, as Newsweek reported, the administration balked at releasing the names of coal execs who had visited the White House -- only to relent a few months later.

During the campaign, the president promised to break down the wall, and allow Americans to watch on TV as legislation was made. "We'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies."

Whoops. C-SPAN has asked for just that kind of access during these final negotiations (now that they've gone underground). Brian Lamb, the network's chairman, wrote to congressional leaders to complain that taking the final process behind closed doors was unacceptable, given that this legislation will "affect the lives of every single American." It looks like the answer to his plea was "go away."

The danger for the White House is that C-SPAN won't be the only one who feels disappointed.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.