Senate GOPers Stick To Extraordinarily Secretive O’Care Repeal Process

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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The lack of transparency around Senate Republicans’ efforts to repeal Obamacare—an effort that will affect millions of people’s health coverage and stands to remake one-sixth of the economy—has prompted intense, reporter-filled stakeouts outside their closed-door health care working group meetings, admissions from rank-and-file GOPers that they’re not sure what’s going into the repeal bill, and some dramatic confrontations with Democrats who’ve been shut out of the process.

“We have no idea what’s being proposed. There’s a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making decisions,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) vented at an unrelated hearing last week.

The scrutiny over the extraordinarily secretive nature of the Senate repeal effort amped up this week with reports that they could send the draft bill they’re close to finishing to the CBO before posting it publicly, as some Republicans have indicated they could vote on it as early as this month. There are no intentions to hold any public hearings on the draft.

But if you asked Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), a member of the GOP Senate leadership team as well as the working group negotiating a health care deal, he would describe what the Senate GOP plans to do on health care as an “open process.”

“The House bill is what, 100 and some pages? People are able to read that in an amount of time, it doesn’t take too long,” he said, when asked how much time the public would get review their legislation. “How long does it take you to read 100 pages?”

Barrasso pointed to the “vote-a-rama” process that the legislation would undergo on the Senate floor before a vote—when members can put up amendments—as an opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in.

There will be plenty of time for amendments to be written and offered on and voted on the floor. It will be an open process,” he said.

The process so far has been entirely shut off from public view, though. The major details of a Senate GOP plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act have been discussed in closed-door meetings, and lawmakers have mostly held the state of the negotiations close to the chest when asked by reporters on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, it was announced that access in the Capitol hallways would be limited for reporters with cameras, although there was no immediate indication that decision was related to the health care deliberations.

Some Republicans have said they would like to vote before the July 4 recess, giving them just a few days with the legislation following a CBO review that likely would take about two weeks. Others have warned that the timeline could stretch longer, but there’s been no guarantee that the public would get an extended time to analyze the legislation. 

Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was asked Monday how much time the public deserved to see the bill before a vote and whether a few days would suffice.

“Well I think we’re not worried so much about that as we are getting it together so we can get a majority to vote for it,” Hatch said.

Based on the few details that have floated out about what Senate Republicans are planning, it appears that the legislation will track closely with the House GOP bill, the American Health Care Act, which the CBO estimated would result in 23 million fewer people with health coverage while slashing $834 billion in Medicaid funding. Some Senate Republicans have said the House bill was unacceptable to them, but more than a few admitted Monday that they’re still in the dark about the details of the legislation their own leaders are working on.

Well I’d like to see it before I vote on it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said when asked how long the public should get to review the bill. “You can start with me not knowing what’s in it, and time for people to, you know, look at it and see what’s in it.”

I hope they start sharing with members,” he added.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), an attendee of the thrice weekly health care working group meetings, said that it is “not a good process” if he doesn’t get enough to time to go over the legislation.

I hope we all get a great deal of time to take a look at it. I don’t want to rush this process,” he said.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) predicted that “it’s going to be more than days” that senators and outside stakeholders weigh in on the legislation before a vote.

There’s been some criticism that we’re not going through hearings and that kind of thing,” he told TPM. “I think Mitch is trying to get input and pretty quick here we’ll have an initial working draft, and there will be a chance for more transparency and more input.”

Senate aides on Monday were vague about how far along they were in finishing a draft bill and whether they would send it to the CBO before releasing it publicly.

“Conversations with CBO continue,” one GOP staffer said in an email, while another aide said there was no new information to share.

Democrats, meanwhile, have bashed Republicans for their secrecy, having long endured criticism that their own 14-month process to pass the Affordable Care Act, which included multiple hearings and GOP amendments, was too rushed and partisan.

“Why on Earth is this bill being hidden from public view?” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the floor Tuesday. “There’s only one reason: The Republican majority is afraid of the American people learning what is in their health bill.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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