Amid complaints about the secrecy with which Republicans are drafting a health care bill, the White House Tuesday put the blame on Senate Democrats for refusing to cooperate. But a spokesman didn’t address the complaints of outside groups that very much want to be heard in the process.
At Tuesday’s White House briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer was asked how the current legislative process differs from the way the Democratic Congress enacted Obamacare in 2010. The Senate’s health care bill is being written in secret by a group of 13 Republican legislators chosen by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; senators outside the group, and even some of those in it, say they don’t know what it contains.
Republicans have long complained that Obama’s Affordable Care Act was written in secrecy without Republican input and rammed down the throats of Americans. The bill passed after months of hearings and debate. President Obama convened a bipartisan summit on health care on Feb. 25, 2010.
“I think we wanted to be part of the process back then,” said Spicer. “If you look at what Sen. Schumer said in February in a MoveOn.org call where he said no Democrats [are] going to go near this and what he said as part of a letter May 9, he said, ‘No Democrats are going to be part of an effort to repeal Obamacare.’”
“They have chosen to make themselves not part of this process,” continued Spicer. “When Sen. McConnell brings the bill forward, I’m sure there will be plenty of time to have debate. It’s the Senate, there’s always going to be time to debate.”
Spicer was reminded that McConnell was planning on voting on the bill as early as next week in order to have it passed by the customary July 4 recess.
“Well, OK, but again, next week, I’ll let Sen. McConnell determine the Senate schedule and run the Senate that he sees fit,” said Spicer. “But let’s not mistake ourselves with how they approach this thing. Their leader, Sen. Schumer, made it very clear on at least two separate occasions that they didn’t want to be part of this process. They didn’t want to repeal and replace Obamacare, they were happy with Obamacare. We believe that Obamacare is failing, we want a better system for the American people, a patient-centric health care system that brings down costs and brings more accessibility to people. That’s it. They made it very clear that they didn’t want to engage in this process. So to turn around now and second-guess, that’s something they should take up with their own leader.”
A Congressional Budget Office estimate of the House legislation projects that 23 million people will lose health care by 2026 if passes, and that it would increase the costs for Americans who are older or who have lower incomes. Some analysts believe that one reason for Obamacare’s instability is intentional sabotage by Republicans.
Democrats have complained about the legislative process, with Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri ripping it as a “backroom” deal earlier this month. On Tuesday, a trio of Democratic senators live-streamed their trip to the CBO in an attempt to procure a copy of the legislation. They were unsuccessful.
Outside medical groups have also said they have been cut out of the process. The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the March of Dimes have all been ignored by McConnell’s office, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
“The Senate staff generally don’t know anything,” Dick Woodruff, vice president of the American Cancer Society’s advocacy arm, told the LA Times. “There are so few people who understand what is going on that having meetings isn’t particularly productive. … This is such a closed process.”
“It is deeply disturbing,” said Erika Sward, assistant vice president of the American Lung Association, in an interview with the LA Times. “Patients groups like ours need to make sure that our patients’ needs for healthcare will be met. … We can’t do that if we can’t see what is being proposed.”
Last week, a group of seven governors — including Republicans John Kasich of Ohio and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts — sent a letter to McConnell and Schumer asking to be a part of the process. And it is not just Senate Democrats, nonprofit groups and governors that wanted to be a part of the process, but members of the Republican caucus.
“Would I have preferred a more open process? The answer is yes,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
“No [I haven’t seen it], nor have I met any American that has,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona when asked about it. “I’m sure the Russians have been able to hack in and gotten most of it.”
“I’m not going to vote for a bill whose impact has not been analyzed by the CBO,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “I think that it is not a responsible way to legislate, when you don’t know the impact on cost and coverage. I always believe legislation is best crafted through the normal order. I think it’s much better to have committee consideration of bills, public hearings and to have a full debate. That’s the process for most well-considered legislation.”
Even Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who is a member of the working group that was reportedly writing the legislation, expressed frustration Tuesday afternoon about being left out of the process.
“Even though I’ve been a member of this working group assigned to help narrow some of the focus on this, I haven’t seen the bill,” said Lee. “It has become increasingly apparent over the past few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing this bill within this working group, it’s not being written by us. It’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So if you’re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration wholeheartedly.”
Trump himself has criticized both the Senate and House bills, despite toasting the passage of the latter with a large Rose Garden celebration at the White House. During the briefing, Spicer said that Trump wants a health care bill that has “heart” in it, but didn’t specify what that meant.
Spicer also could not confirm that Trump or any member of the White House staff had seen a copy of the Senate bill. Last week multiple sources reported that Trump had called the House bill “mean” during a meeting with GOP senators.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said on MSNBC Tuesday morning that all Republican senators would meet Wednesday to outline the health care bill, with the language being revealed on Thursday.
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