On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tried to get an assurance from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he’ll allow the public to scrutinize Senate Republicans’ secret health care bill for more than 10 hours before the Senate is forced to vote on it.
McConnell wouldn’t make any promises.
“Will we have time — more than 10 hours, since this is a complicated bill — to review the bill?” Schumer asked. “Will it be available to us and the public more than 10 hours before we have to vote for it? Since our leader has said — our Republican leader — that there will be plenty of time for a process where people can make amendments. You need time to prepare those amendments.”
“I think we’ll have ample opportunity to read and amend the bill,” McConnell replied.
“Will it be more than 10 hours?” Schumer said.
But McConnell wouldn’t stray from his talking point, reiterating, “I think we’ll have ample opportunity to read and amend the bill.”
The exchange came on Monday evening, during which a string of Democratic senators took to the Senate floor to express their anger about the secretive process Republican senators are using to draft their version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), also known as Trumpcare. The bill, which Republicans plan to vote on next week, is reportedly shaping up to look much like the House version that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost 23 million Americans their health insurance.
It’s impossible to draw firm conclusions, however, because nobody outside a small, predominately male group of Republican senators has been in the room when the bill has been under construction.
Throughout the evening, Democrats shed light on the difference between the lengthy and public process used to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2009, and what Republicans are up to now.
Obamacare had 100 Senate hearings and 161 amendments from Republicans.
Trumpcare has had 0 Senate hearings and 0 amendments from Democrats. pic.twitter.com/jSyeHhm3TQ
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) June 20, 2017
At another point, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), under questioning from Schumer, admitted that the ACA was subject to 25 consecutive days of hearings and 169 hours of consideration. Trumpcare, by contrast, has yet to have a single Senate hearing.
Trumpcare: 0 days of hearings pic.twitter.com/odHYpgDYUx
— CAP Action (@CAPAction) June 19, 2017
But McConnell and other Senate Republicans are holding firm to their plan to subject the AHCA to as little scrutiny as possible. The New York Times reports that “Republicans, who hold 52 seats in the Senate, are planning to pass their repeal bill using special budget rules that would bypass a Democratic filibuster” and “plan to push through their repeal bill under arcane budget rules that would limit debate on it to 20 hours.”
This is the same sort of process Republicans like Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) decried when they were constructing scarecrow arguments about the ACA back in early 2010.
It's simply wrong for legislation that'll affect 100% of the American people to be negotiated behind closed doors – http://ow.ly/W9gq #hcr
— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) January 13, 2010
The people have a right to know what is happening behind closed doors with secret HC negotiations
— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) January 7, 2010
But there’s a reason Republicans no longer care about subjecting major pieces of legislation to public debate. The health care plan that passed the House with nothing but Republican votes is essentially a tax cut for the rich masquerading as health care reform; it’s so unpopular that even Fox News can’t spin it.
Poll: View of the American Health Care Act. pic.twitter.com/CZqCGrJfsE
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 9, 2017
McConnell’s strategy of secrecy has limited blowback by keeping Trumpcare off the front page of newspapers and cable news. That was again the case Tuesday morning, despite Democrats’ efforts on the Senate floor and some breaking news about Republicans’ expedited timeline.
Another benefit of secrecy is that Republican senators end up not having to try and defend the actual substance of the bill. That was on display during Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) Tuesday morning interview on MSNBC, during which he framed himself as a bystander to a flawed process involving a bill he hasn’t seen — but left the door open to voting for it anyway.