Even Republicans in the dark on health care plan
Senate Republican leaders say they still hope to vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare before lawmakers leave town for the July 4th recess.
There’s just one hiccup with that plan: Almost everyone seems to be in the dark about the legislation.
Since House Republicans passed a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare last month after much hand-wringing and drama, a “working group” of Senate Republicans have been meeting to share their preferences for a health care bill. It is now up to the Senate Budget Committee — in consultation with key senators and leadership — to draft the language.
But with Independence Day now just three weeks away, there are no plans for any hearings. And as of Tuesday morning, multiple aides to senators who sit on the working group responded in the negative when asked whether they have yet to see any text or version of a bill.
“They have not given us anything,” one Senate Republican aide told CNN.
“No,” answered another.
The irony of moving forward with nothing in public is hardly lost on Democrats, who were pummeled by Republicans in 2009 as they were drafting the Affordable Care Act.
Then-House Minority Leader John Boehner lamented at the time about Obamacare: “Look at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly? With transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals that were struck behind closed doors? … Hell no, you can’t!”
Still being written
Some Republican senators and aides are downplaying the lack of clarity so far, insisting that it reflects the reality that the bill is still being written. They argue that reaching a consensus on such a divisive and complicated issue will take time and is more easily accomplished behind closed doors.
Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, said the closed-door process has given his colleagues space to have difficult and complex intra-party debate.
“This is one where I think leadership is really pushing to have all points of view exposed right now and have that debate early and not get them pushed in a corner where they can’t get to a ‘yes,’ ” Perdue said.
But other GOP lawmakers are publicly venting their frustrations.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who attended a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday, said upon returning to Capitol Hill that she couldn’t say whether GOP leaders were taking into account her suggestions.
“I don’t know because I have no idea if we even have a bill,” Murkowski said. “I learned more from you all in this conversation that there may have in fact have been something submitted to CBO, but if that’s the case, I don’t know what it is nor what it says.”
Asked if she was frustrated and whether she wishes there were hearings on the legislation, she answered: “Yes.”
‘Exposing a vampire to sunlight’
The New York Times editorial board wrote Tuesday that Republican senators were working on a bill that could take away insurance from millions of people — all while refusing to subject the bill to public scrutiny.
“They are coming up with the legislation behind closed doors without holding hearings, without consulting lawmakers who disagree with them and without engaging in any meaningful public debate,” the editorial board wrote. “Opening it to scrutiny before a vote would be the congressional equivalent of exposing a vampire to sunlight.”
The uproar about a Senate health care bill that critics say is being written in secret comes just weeks after similar accusations were leveled at House Republicans.
The House legislation was similarly criticized for being written behind closed doors, with even Republican lawmakers out of the loop for weeks. GOP Sen. Rand Paul led a particularly memorable search expedition around the Capitol looking for the bill he said was being kept under lock and key.
“This should be an open and transparent process,” Paul said at the time. “This is being presented as if it were a national secret, as if this was a plot to invade another country, as if this were national security. That’s wrong.”
Republican members who didn’t serve on the relevant committees weren’t able to see drafts of the legislation. And when it was released, members weren’t back in Washington immediately to discuss it as a full conference. There were no hearings held about the legislation.
It didn’t help the optics after the fact when some Republican lawmakers were forced to acknowledge that they had not read the bill before voting in support of it.
Drawing the most heated disapproval was House GOP leaders’ decision to vote on their Obamacare repeal bill before the Congressional Budget Office could score the final version. House Republicans ultimately passed the bill without a score from the CBO could conduct important analysis, including what the bill would cost and how many people would be covered under it.
Now, Senate Democrats are again forcefully speaking out against their GOP colleagues’ quiet drafting of a health care bill.
In a particularly heated exchange at a hearing last week, Democratic Sen. Clair McCaskill asked Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch whether any hearings would be held on the yet-to-be-released bill.
After a long pause — and consulting with an aide — Hatch began to respond, “I don’t know that there’s going to be another hearing, but we’ve invited you to participate and give your ideas.”
“No, that’s not true,” McCaskill said, adding that during the drafting of Obamacare, “dozens of Republican amendments were offered and accepted in that hearing process.”
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said at a Tuesday hearing that Republicans were “jamming their version of Trumpcare through the Senate.”
“They have held no hearings, engaged in no public debate, and provided no information for people across the county to understand what this all-male, Republican working group has in store for their health and financial security,” Murray said.