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Senate Republican leaders are keeping their healthcare bill quiet – very, very quiet.
Despite reports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is attempting to bring the bill for a vote before the week-long July 4 recess, there remains no public text of any proposed legislation, and therefore no Congressional Budget Office score. There have also been no public hearings on changes made to the House version of the bill.
While a core group of GOP senators is working on the bill, it appears that not all Senate Republicans even know what could be in it.
McConnell is likely able to keep the bill under wraps until days before a final vote. By all indications that is the path the Republicans will take to try to ensure its passage.
The secretive process has drawn the ire of Democratic lawmakers and activists, who have argued that Republicans attacked Democrats for “backroom deals” on the Affordable Care Act, the law known as Obamacare, despite that bill getting dozens of hearings and hundreds of amendments from both sides.
Even some Republicans aren’t happy.
The logic behind it all
Public backlash during the House deliberation on its healthcare legislation, the American Health Care Act, was intense. Lawmakers received a deluge of calls from constituents against the bill. Think tanks and health policy experts – both conservative and liberal – picked the bill apart. Analyses showed the bill would result in higher prices for older and sicker Americans, coverage losses, and a slew of other negative side effects.
The furor increased after the CBO score estimated that 23 million more people would go without insurance under the American Health Care Act by 2026 than under the current system.
Republican leaders in the Senate have sought to avoid similar public fury, while writing its own version of the bill. McConnell can only lose three votes to pass the legislation, so any wavering on the bill by GOP members could doom it.
‘I don’t know. We just don’t know.’
The secretive Republican process has frustrated not only Democratic lawmakers – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republicans must be “ashamed” of the bill to keep it secret – but also many GOP lawmakers.
The New York Times’ Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear spoke to a number of Republican senators who seemed less than pleased with the process so far.
“The process is better if you do it in public, and that people get buy-in along the way and understand what’s going on,” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told the Times. “Obviously, that’s not the route that is being taken.”
“Seems like around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn’t seem to be necessarily the most effective process,” said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. He also told reporters it’s “not a good process” unless he gets time to read the bill.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican who long advocated for a full repeal of Obamacare, expressed misgivings with the process and so far hasn’t liked what he’s heard from leadership.
“I think it’s being written, uh, by someone somewhere but I’m not aware of who or where,” Paul told NBC News.“If you get a copy of it, will you send me a copy?”
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a doctor from Louisiana who has proposed his own healthcare legislation, also expressed his desire for a more open process.
“Would I have preferred a more open process? The answer is yes.” Cassidy said.
Finally, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a possible swing vote on the bill, told Vox that she is unable to give clear answers to constituents about what’s in the bill. Murkowski’s state depends heavily on the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, which the House bill would eliminate. Murkowski said it’s unclear if that cut would remain in the Senate bill.
“Is it the framework of the House-passed bill and then we’re filling in our own details? I don’t know,” Murkowski told Vox’s Dylan Scott. “We just don’t know. My constituents expect me to know, and if we had utilized the process that goes through a committee, I would be able to answer not only your questions but my constituents’ questions.”