After weeks of development behind closed doors, Senate Republicans are set to reveal their health-care bill on Thursday. The proposed legislation is expected to be a revision of the American Health Care Act that passed the House last month. That legislation was aimed at overhauling the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in 2010 and became known as Obamacare.
When White House press secretary Sean Spicer commented on the House bill in March, he tried to assure the public that Congress would do its work in public, contrasting the Republican effort with how the ACA was “jammed down our throats.” As the weeks passed and the Republican bill met with stiff public opposition, that commitment to transparency wavered and then collapsed. Senate Republicans have come under withering fire — including from other Republicans — for the way in which their legislation was drafted, excluding input from not only Senate Democrats but many other Republicans.
Earlier this month, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) challenged Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), one of those Republicans included in those closed-door sessions, over whether or not the Senate Finance Committee (which Hatch chairs) would hold hearings on the Republican health-care bill.
“I don’t know that there’s going to be another hearing,” Hatch said, “but we’ve invited you to participate and give your ideas …”
“That’s not true, Mr. Chairman,” McCaskill interjected. She noted the scale of the hearing process during the development of the ACA, which Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) made a line of attack this week.
“You couldn’t have a more partisan exercise than what you’re engaged in right now,” McCaskill said. “We’re not even going to have a hearing on a bill that affects one-sixth of the economy. … It is all being done with an eye to trying to get it by with 50 votes and the vice president.”
Schumer, in a letter with three other senators, claimed that the Democratic-led Finance Committee had held more than 50 meetings, hearings and round tables in the run-up to the Affordable Care Act vote, plus another 47 in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (also known as the HELP Committee).
Those figures are probably a little high, including a number of meetings before Barack Obama was even inaugurated. But in comparing the Senate processes in the 2009-2010 time period and the process in 2017, it’s clear that the Republican effort has been a lot more modest in its transparency.
We pulled data from the Finance and HELP committee calendars and compared it with a list of the meetings Schumer cited provided by his office. We also took the official list of congressional actions on the ACA, the reconciliation bill that amended that legislation and the Republicans’ AHCA to note when the legislation was introduced, moved between chambers and had amendments offered on the floor of each chamber. Since committee hearing titles are often somewhat oblique, we’ve included most hearings and meetings that addressed health care.
Here’s the timeline.
Remember: This is only the Senate. House Republicans held hearings and marked up legislation before the passage of the AHCA. But the Senate process has been exceptional and promises to continue to be exceptional.
Note the target deadline for voting on the bill: Some time before the July 4 recess. Whenever that vote occurs, there will be a flood of amendments introduced to it, a function of the process being used by Senate Republicans to avoid a filibuster.
No amendments have yet been added, of course, since no one except that small group of senators (and, according to Washington Post reporting, some lobbyists) knows what the bill looks like.