Democrats stay up late hoping to ‘shame’ Republicans over health-bill secrecy

Andrew Bahl
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., one of many Democratic senators to speak out for open debate on the Senate health bill. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — In a late night protest, Senate Democrats decried efforts by top Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act behind closed doors, pledging to disrupt proceedings in the chamber over the matter.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Democrats will break with normal procedure and object to routine movements and bills in an effort to slow down Senate business unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agrees to allow debate on the controversial health care bill.

“This radical departure from normal procedure on a bill of such consequence leaves [Democrats] with little choice but to depart from normal procedure as well,” Schumer said.

Republican senators have been working for weeks to come to an agreement on their own version of the American Health Care Act, which was passed by the House last month. Their efforts have been a closely held secret among the Republican leadership and a working group of 13 senators.

As a result, many key stakeholders, including some other GOP senators and members of President Trump’s administration, say they don’t know what is in the bill. Leadership has been pushing for a vote before the July 4 recess.

McConnell said Monday evening that there would be a chance for the public to review the bill and for Democrats to offer amendments.

“I think there will be ample opportunity to read and amend the bill,” McConnell said in a spirited back-and-forth with Schumer.

“Will it be more than 10 hours?” Schumer shot back.

McConnell refused to say.

Democrats charged that Republicans were trying to hide a bill that would harm millions of Americans.

“Why are only a select group of Americans able to have a voice inside that room?” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a fiery floor speech. “My constituents are Americans just like the constituents in Republican states are Americans. They deserve to know what’s about to happen to them. You’re breaking the Senate. And it won’t get put back together that easily.”

In an effort to increase transparency, Democrats moved numerous times to refer the House version of the AHCA to the Health, Finance and Budget committees, but were struck down by Republicans.

“We clearly are trying to shame our Republican colleagues into opening up this process,” Murphy acknowledged in an appearance Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.”

In their speeches, which stretched until shortly after midnight, Democrats pointed to the unpopularity of the AHCA, which 21 percent of Americans support, according to a Quinnipiac poll last month. They also pointed to an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office that said the AHCA would result in 23 million more Americans going uninsured than under current law.

“No parents or grandparents should have to lie awake at night worried that if their child has an illness or an injury, that they wouldn’t have a way to pay to cover their care,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said. “It’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s not fundamentally who we are.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., noted that while Trump initially cheered the passage of the AHCA, he remarked to a meeting of Republican senators last week that it was in fact “mean.”

“We’ve been told it’s about 80 percent the same as the bill passed by the House. A bill so catastrophic that even the president, who hailed its passage, now called it ‘mean,'” Harris said.

Monday was not the first time that Democrats in Congress have held the floor to draw attention to policy issues. In a protest of Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to be education secretary, Democrats mounted an all-night stand in an effort to drum up public pressure on Republicans to oppose DeVos.

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