Remember the GOP complaints about the way the Affordable Care Act came into being? It was done behind closed doors, Republicans said. It was a bill that was rammed through on short notice without Republican input or bipartisan support, with so little information that Democrats said they’d have to pass it before people could learn what it contained.
And certainly if one overlooked the dozen or so hearings and the more than 30 bipartisan meetings that then-Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus held, or the months he spent trying to work out a bipartisan bill with ranking member Chuck Grassley, or the bill’s month-long markup, during which some 160 GOP amendments were accepted, or the many House hearings, or the attention paid to the Congressional Budget Office’s cost analysis, or the more than a year it took from the first big meeting to the bill’s final passage, one might almost believe that to be true.
That is, if one didn’t follow the process and only watched Fox News.
But false as that was, that has long been the Republican narrative. And now congressional Republicans are apparently making it their own playbook. After the failure of its first repeal effort, the House wrote its second ACA replacement bill in secret and passed it before it had been analyzed or scored (costed out) by the CBO. When the CBO did issue its report, three weeks after the House rammed its bill through, it estimated that the House’s handiwork would mean that 23 million more Americans would be without health coverage than under the current law.
Senators squawked, making it clear that the bill had little chance of passage, and that they were going to write their own. Republican senators have been talking among themselves, trying to come to agreement on a workable version ever since. So what changes are being made, and how would the Senate Republicans bill address the problems the CBO found in the House measure?
We don’t know. There have been no hearings, no released drafts, no informational meetings. What’s more, this week, the Senate bill-writers will finish their draft and send it to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis without releasing the legislation to the public. The apparent goal is to get the legislation scored — a Senate requirement — and hold a vote before the bill or its effects are widely digested by the public. Indeed, if they don’t release the bill until after the CBO’s report, and hold to their plan to take a vote on the legislation before their July Fourth recess, the public will have almost no time to absorb it, let alone convey their sentiments to their lawmakers. The unfolding Russia investigation, which was again the focus of TV news coverage on Tuesday, has provided a convenient smokescreen.
But when legislation is treated with such secrecy, it’s obviously not because lawmakers think their constituents will be pleased when they learn the details.
This process alone is reason enough to vote against any bill that emerges from it. Those senators who support this hurry-up legislation should expect to be held accountable for doing so — even if the bill fails.