In a topsy-turvy twist to the Obamacare repeal saga, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) set out Thursday in search of the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill supposedly kept under lock and key in a secure basement room in the Capitol complex. With reporters tweeting his odyssey, Paul brought unwelcome attention on the House GOP’s odd tactics for avoiding political fallout from the bill that is number one legislative priority for Republicans.
Before embarking on his “National Treasure” quest in the bowels of a House office building, Paul blasted the move to allow only Republicans members and staff of a House committee to review the current draft Obamacare repeal legislation, and to prohibit making copies of the bill.
“I am very upset that they’ve made the Obamacare proposal classified,” said Paul, who has been critical of the direction House leadership is said be moving with the repeal. It was reported Wednesday that the bill would be available Thursday for Energy and Commerce Republicans to read, but under conditions akin to a secret intelligence meeting.
“We’re going to be trying to get a look at the Obamacare proposal, but I think the reason that they’re keeping it in secret is that it’s Obamacare-lite ” Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Conservatives, I can tell you, on both sides of the … House and the Senate, are very unhappy that they’re now making the Obamacare proposal classified. It’s under lock and key and we’re not allowed to have a copy of it. I think that’s crazy.”
Paul tried to enter himself into the room where the legislation was being held for Energy and Commerce members, according to a tweet from Vox’s Sarah Kliff.
Sen Paul trying to enter room with ACA bill. Being denied entry pic.twitter.com/Vwg6vtZelc
— Sarah Kliff (@sarahkliff) March 2, 2017
.@RandPaul outside the “secret office for the secret bill.” pic.twitter.com/fY8BAVqwvd
— Eli Yokley (@eyokley) March 2, 2017
Rand Paul talking to press after being told he can’t get a public copy of the GOP ACA replacement pic.twitter.com/ugvSpF5zOD
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) March 2, 2017
Paul and conservatives in the House have called for a more aggressive approach to dismantling the Affordable Care Act that would follow the model of the 2015 repeal bill that was vetoed by then-President Obama, and they have even introduced a competing Obamacare replacement plan. Congressional GOP leadership meanwhile has indicated that they intend to put some replacement proposals — including refundable tax credits, which conservatives have railed against — into the repeal legislation they hope to pass this spring. A draft version of the bill that leaked to the media last week further inflamed the standoff between leadership and conservative hardliners.
“The only copy that we’ve seen [is] from the media,” Paul told reporters Thursday. “Does that sound to you backwards? That we saw a leaked copy that the media was given that we weren’t given.”
He’s not the only Republican who has been critical of the move to guard the latest draft so closely.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), who chairs the subcommittee on Health under Energy and Commerce, said on “All In with Chris Hayes” Wednesday evening that it wasn’t his decision to move to the next steps of the process in that way.
“My advice, should anyone wish to take it, is that people need to have access to this document. And if there are problems let’s talk through them,” Burgess said.
“Had anyone asked my advice: let’s show our work, it’s time. Put your pencils down and turn your paper in,” he later added.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), an Energy and Commerce Committee member who was first to reveal to reporters Wednesday that the committee’s Republicans were moving forward this way, defended the process when TPM asked him Thursday about Paul’s frustrations.
“The way that the committees do [things]: we do our work and then when we’re done, we mark a bill up, it moves forward,” Collins said, noting the other committees that will be considering the legislation before it moves to a floor vote and then to the Senate. “There’s going to be plenty of time to work on this. I shouldn’t have even probably mentioned yesterday that we were doing this, but this is not an abnormal thing.”
He also didn’t have any problems with the likelihood, as he had admitted Wednesday, that the Energy and Commerce Committee would advance the bill before the Congressional Budget Office returned its scoring.
“By the time we’re done, we’re done. We’re going to have CBO, but we’re going to be moving our part if need be without it,” he said.
Energy and Commerce Chair Greg Walden (R-OR) and House and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), whose committee also has jurisdiction over the repeal effort, briefed Senate Republicans Wednesday afternoon in broad strokes on what the House was considering.
Paul, asked if there was discussion of his rival plan during Wednesday’s meeting, said that senators were told that it was “take it or leave it” with the House leadership’s plan.
“This is what you get,” Paul said, “And I think that’s why it’s top secret.”