Last week, as he rolled out a Republican bill to unravel parts of the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) brushed aside concerns that the legislation would be rushed to a vote without being vetted by the relevant committees.
“I’m chairman of Homeland Security,” Johnson said. “If either the Finance Committee or HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee won’t hold a hearing, I’ll notice one this afternoon. We’ll hold a hearing on this prior to September 30th.”
Indeed, as of Monday morning, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — chaired by Johnson — will hold a Sept. 26 hearing titled Block Grants: How States Can Reduce Health Care Costs, a topic central to the Graham-Cassidy bill, which Johnson got behind last week.
It’s not unusual for this committee to hold hearings on government spending and best practices. But it’s not, nor has it ever been, one of the committees that health insurance legislation has had to move through — a “committee of jurisdiction.” The key Senate panels that deal with health-care legislation are the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, neither of which has scheduled a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill. In July, before voting to end the Republican push for a “skinny repeal” bill targeting the ACA that could be altered in the House, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made clear that he wanted a relevant committee to do its work.
McCain said, “Let the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under Chairman [Lamar] Alexander and ranking member [Patty] Murray hold hearings, try to report a bill out of committee with contributions from both sides, then bring it to the floor for amendment and debate, and see if we can pass something that will be imperfect, full of compromises and not very pleasing to implacable partisans on either side but that might provide workable solutions to problems Americans are struggling with today.”
Johnson’s hearing, by contrast, strikes opponents of the legislation as an attempt to check a box and say the bill has been vetted.
“It’s very unusual for that committee to have a hearing on health care writ large,” said Topher Spiro, vice president of health policy at the progressive Center for American Progress. “It’s not the committee of jurisdiction. Especially since the committee hasn’t had a single hearing on FEMA or disaster relief. A hearing one or two days before a vote, with no amendments, in a committee without jurisdiction, with Senators [Lindsey] Graham and [Bill] Cassidy as the witnesses, is a sham hearing.”
A spokesman for McCain, who is a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, did not respond to a question about Johnson’s hearing.