The undemocratic process to repeal and replace Obamacare

Republicans are doing everything they claimed Democrats did to “jam through” Obamacare.

Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., arrives to speak to the media after a Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 23, 2017, in Washington. CREDIT: AP/Alex Brandon
Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., arrives to speak to the media after a Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 23, 2017, in Washington. CREDIT: AP/Alex Brandon

House Republican leaders are trying to pass a major health care bill that many members of Congress haven’t even seen.

First, House Republicans closely guarded the Affordable Health Care for America Act (better known as Trumpcare, their proposed Obamacare replacement) and refused to let the press and many members of Congress see it. The bill, which would ensure millions of people go uninsured, was released on March 7; only two weeks later, Republicans leaders decided to schedule it for a vote in the House.

That vote was subsequently postponed after it became clear that Trumpcare did not have majority support. Republicans started making last-minute, major changes to the bill in closed-door meetings in an effort to gain support from far-right conservatives. On Thursday night, Republican leaders used the Rules Committee to impose “martial law,” which means they have authority to bring up and vote on any bill that same day.

In contrast, it took more than a year to pass Obamacare. Democrats introduced white papers, held hearings and debates, and produced a discussion draft before markup. But Republicans said they would like to pass their bill through Congress before the Easter recess.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) defended the rushed legislation on Thursday, saying that Republicans would have a chance to “really explain it” once they had passed it.

“In my district, right now there’s a lot of misunderstanding as to what it is we’re doing,” he said. “And once we get it done, and then we can have the chance to really explain it.”

His words inadvertently echoed remarks made by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in a speech before the 2010 Legislative Conference for the National Association of Counties. Referring to Obamacare, she said: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Republican legislators jumped on her for apparently suggesting that she intended to force the legislation through Congress without letting people see its content. But her full quote was: “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

The Freedom Caucus has played a significant role in driving changes to the legislation, which its members have at times called “Obamacare-lite.” Since the first version was released to the public, Republican leaders have added further cuts to Medicaid, ended Medicaid expansion earlier, included language allowing states to impose work requirements for some Medicaid recipients, and gutted Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirement. That provision mandated coverage for maternity care, emergency services, and substance abuse treatment.

By going after the essential health benefits requirement, the plan would also make the provision requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions meaningless, because insurance companies can charge extra for certain kinds of coverage, NPR reported. But even the changes to the essential health benefits requirement are not enough for House Freedom Caucus Republicans, who say they also want to repeal rules on coverage for pre-existing conditions and the provision allowing children to remain on their parents’ plan until age 26.

The Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the American Health Care Act only last week. The analysis found that 24 million more Americans would go uninsured by 2026 relative to the number of people expected to be insured under Obamacare. The latest CBO analysis, which did not include any changes made to the bill since Monday, found that just about as many people would go without insurance as under the original plan, but that there would be fewer budget savings.

Republicans have spent the past seven years accusing Democrats of “jamming” Obamacare through Congress. But the House GOP rushed the legislative process to such an extreme that is not even remotely comparable to Democrats’ efforts to pass Obamacare in 2009 and 2010.