WASHINGTON -- A House Republican chairman who once defended the Bush administration's non-disclosure is now blasting the White House for withholding information.
Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) sharply criticized the Obama administration in a recent Fox Business News interview for refusing to disclose key emails and information as part of an investigation into an alleged secret deal between White House and the pharmaceutical industry to pass health care reform. According to the committee, the Democrats promised to protect drug company revenues from regulations that could cut into their profits, like price caps on drugs.
"This president said that he wanted all these discussions on C-SPAN. Remember? Everything was going to be fully transparent and at the end of the day, we aren't allowed to see the same documents, the same -- the background stuff in essence we got from the private sector," Upton said, adding later, "I just throw the president's words right back at him. 'This is going to the most transparent administration in the history of the country.'"
Although Upton tossed Obama's words back at the president, Upton himself had a different attitude toward disclosure when a Republican sat in the Oval Office.
In 2004, when Democrats demanded information from President George W. Bush about the activities of Vice President Dick Cheney's secret energy task force, Upton voted against the request for disclosure.
On a party-line vote, the committee defeated a so-called resolution of inquiry sponsored by three senior Democrats that sought the names of those who met with task force members, as well as the date, subject and location of each meeting, and other information. Republican leadership on the committee did not allow debate or amendments on the resolution.
"Shouldn't that have been important information in evaluating the vice president's false claims that the West Coast energy crisis was about supplies and not manipulation?" asked Rep. John Dingell Jr. (D-Mich.), then the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, in his opening statement.
Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), in contrast, chastised the Democrats for what he called a politically motivated effort to raise the issue in an election year, according to the National Journal.
Upton has also been averse to disclosure more recently, in the case of his own closed-door meetings. Last March, Upton aides hosted several negotiating sessions with lobbyists to hash out plans to block environmental rules.
Those aides carefully guarded the guest list for the invitation-only gathering, which was held just before Upton introduced a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
While Upton's office did not return requests for comment for this article, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a statement Friday criticizing the Obama administration's alleged collaboration with special interests to earn public support for health care reform.
"Despite President Obama's repeated statements that such third parties running advertisements are a 'problem for our democracy,' the White House played a vital role in the organization and direction of two 501(c)(4) groups, worked with special interests to develop mutually agreeable messaging, and offered input on where the money should go," the statement reads.
The allegations are not new. As early as 2009, the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan research group focused political transparency and others reported on a White House deal with the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association, a trade group.
The White House declined to comment for this story, but administration spokesman Eric Schultz recently told Bloomberg News that Upton's efforts to dig into the pharmaceutical industry talks were "a nakedly political taxpayer-funded crusade to hurt the president's re-election campaign."
This story has been updated to include a press statement from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
CORRECTION: Rep. John Dingell Jr. was incorrectly affiliated with the Republican party in a previous version of this post. He is a Democrat.