Senate GOP’s health care bill is so secret not even Trump’s health secretary has seen it

This takes secrecy to entirely new levels.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Capitol Hill. CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Capitol Hill. CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

No one seems to know what’s in the Senate’s Trumpcare bill. Not even Trump’s top health care adviser.

At a Thursday hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, “Have you or anyone in your department seen what the Senate Republicans are working on in terms of their version of Trumpcare?”

Price began his response with a caveat that he has talked to senators who care about health care, but followed it up with the stunning admission that he had not yet seen any part of the bill.

“I’ve had multiple conversations with senators who are interested in making certain that we have a health care system that works for patients, my staff has provided technical assistance,” said Price. “I haven’t seen any legislative language.”

Sen. Durbin’s reaction was complete and utter disbelief: “[You] have not seen it? You haven’t seen it either?”

Price replied: “As I say, my staff has provided some technical assistance to individuals, but I haven’t seen any legislative language.”

“Well we haven’t seen it either,” Durbin shot back, “and we’re told that we’re going to vote on it in a matter of days, without a CBO [Congressional Budget Office] score, and without any revelation of what’s included in that.”

Durbin asked Price if he thought that was a responsible way to handle the health care of every American citizen. Price punted.

“I’ll leave the Article One branch of the Constitution to determine how the Article One branch works,” said Price. (Article One of the United States Constitution outlines the powers granted to the legislative branch.)

The House passed its health care bill by a very thin margin just over a month ago, rushing to do so before the CBO scored the bill. When the CBO did release its analysis weeks later, members learned that their bill would be costly for the sickest and oldest Americans — and leave 23 million more people without health insurance.

Instead of taking up the same bill, the Senate has opted to draft its own version. To that end, a group of 13 senators (all male) has operated in secret, working toward the goal of voting on a final package before the July 4th congressional recess.

The working group has included some other senators, such as Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), in some meetings. However, another important senior senator — who in normal circumstances would need to pass the bill through his committee — is evidently in the dark.

That would be Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill. When a reporter observed that the public is in the dark on the contents of the bill and asked Hatch what’s in it, the senator replied: “Well join the crowd. I’m in the same category.”

Hatch also got into a heated exchange during a committee hearing last week with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who wanted to know why there had been no hearings on the Senate bill. Hatch had no answer for her, after first appearing to claim there had been hearings.

Back in 2009, the GOP sang a different tune when it opposed Obamacare. Paul Ryan, now Speaker of the House, wrote in an op-ed, “Congress is moving fast to rush through a health care overhaul that lacks a key ingredient: the full participation of you, the American people.” In fact, the Affordable Care Act went through many hearings and many months of deliberation.

The Senate GOP’s decision to try passing the bill through a parliamentary maneuver known as budget reconciliation means that Democrats will not have the opportunity to filibuster the bill.

The secrecy and confusion surrounding the bill is deliberate. According to Axios, an aide to a Senate Republican replied, “we aren’t stupid,” when asked why the bill was being kept from public scrutiny.

The House bill has a 17 percent approval rating, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Sixty-two percent of respondents disapprove of it.

The House bill breaks six promises candidate Donald Trump made before becoming president, and according to CNN he recently told senators that he thought the bill was “mean.” Trump celebrated the bill’s passage with scores of members of the House in a Rose Garden press conference in May.

Neither Price nor Hatch can know how many of Trump’s promises the Senate Trumpcare bill would break. They join the American public in the dark.