If you are anything like us at The Heritage Foundation, the last two weeks of December are a time for visiting friends and family, securing last minute Christmas gifts, and planning your Christmas and New Year’s menus. But President-elect Barack Obama wants to add another item to your to-do list.

Remember how Michelle Obama said her husband “will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual.” Well, she meant it. While the vast majority of Americans are busy celebrating the holidays, the Obama’s transition office is urging Americans to participate in more than 4,200 health care community discussions nationwide until Dec. 31. Tom Daschle, secretary-designate for Health and Human Services, is slated to attend at least one of these focus groups and will issue a report, complete with video, to Obama.

Heritage agrees that our nation’s health care system is in need of major reform. The current employer-based system did not come about as the result of a consensus vision or conscious legislation, but is actually a relic of World War II era wage and price controls. Since that time, structural weaknesses of traditional employer-sponsored health insurance have led to a steady erosion of coverage, especially for workers in the small business sector. We also share Obama’s vision for an open and transparent debate over what direction health care reform should take. Unfortunately, a close examination of the Obama’s moderator and participant guides reveal that these “health care community discussions” are little more than a cynical ploy to add a participatory varnish to a carefully choreographed plan to remake the nation’s $2 trillion health care as quickly as possible.

The moderator’s guide instructs hosts, “you should not strongly advocate for specific health policy positions,” but it also only encourages hosts to invite like-minded Obama supporters. There is no effort to seek out dissenting opinions. The moderator’s guide also betrays the true purpose of these forums: in five separate places, moderators are instructed to “identify particularly poignant stories about health care from participants that can be used to help emphasize the need for health care reform in our country.” In other words, the purpose of these meetings is not to gather policy ideas, but to help Obama identify the most compelling vignettes he can exploit to push his established policy prescription.

The participant’s guide is even worse. It features an “Overview of the Problem” filled with false and sensationalist statistics like “large medical bills have contributed to half of bankruptcies.” It then outlines “The President-Elect’s Health Care Plan,” but no views on health care reform are included other than the official Obama dogma. This is not the way to have an honest debate about health care reform.

There is serious doubt as to whether the Obama administration even wants debate. The Associated Press reports:

President-elect Barack Obama and his aides are determined not to repeat the mistakes the Clinton administration made 15 years ago in trying to revamp the nation’s health care system. Some of the lessons learned: Move fast, seize the momentum and don’t let it go. …

Daschle maintains the efforts to bring about universal health coverage in the first two years of the Clinton presidency took too long. …

‘We need to be on the offense,’ Daschle said. …

This time around, lawmakers can’t try to address every detail when it comes to legislation. ‘Details kill,’ Daschle said. ‘If we get too far into the weeds, if we produce a 1,500- or 1,600-page bill, we’re going to get hung up on all the details and we’re never going to get to the principles.’

We strongly disagree. As the morphing of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) into an auto bailout slush fund demonstrates, details matter. We urge the Obama administration to have a longer period of discussion in 2009, and get input from all corners. The Heritage Foundation is very eager to have a real dialogue about health care reform. What is being perpetrated on the American people right now is not the transparent form of democracy that Obama promised.

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