A pair of conservative Republican senators are accusing their own party of hypocrisy for rushing through its replacement of Obamacare. And they've got a point — though perhaps not for the most obvious reason.
House Republicans passed their bill through a key committee in the wee hours of Thursday morning — less than two and a half days after the bill was introduced and without any scoring from the independent Congressional Budget Office.
"This is exactly the type of backroom dealing and rushed process that we criticized Democrats for," Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Tuesday.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), meanwhile, tweeted his own less-direct hypocrisy claim early Thursday morning:
2. GOP shouldn't act like Dems did in O'care. No excuse to release bill Mon night, start voting Wed. With no budget estimate!
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) March 9, 2017
But the two debates — over Obamacare and now over its potential replacement — aren't really analogous, and there has been some revisionist history going on when it comes to what happened back in 2009 and 2010 when Democrats passed Obamacare.
The big reason it's remembered as having been jammed through is that Democrats used an unusual maneuver — the budget reconciliation process — to attain final passage when they lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in the special election won by Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). The reconciliation process is not subject to filibuster.
Yet the process, as Philip Bump noted Wednesday, was actually rather lengthy. Indeed, it seemed almost endless at the time. Topher Spiro of the left-leaning Center for American Progress crunched the numbers:
In the House, Democrats held a series of public hearings before introducing a public discussion draft in June 2009. The House then held more public hearings before introducing new legislative text in July. All three relevant committees held “markups” — committee work sessions to amend the legislation — and the full House vote on the amended legislation did not take place until November.
In the Senate, the HELP Committee held 14 bipartisan roundtables and 13 public hearings in 2008 and 2009. During the committee’s markup in June 2009, Democrats accepted more than 160 Republican amendments to the bill.
Beginning in May 2008 — 20 months before the Senate vote and six months before Barack Obama, who would later sign the bill into law, was even elected president — the Senate Finance Committee held 17 public roundtables, summits and hearings. In 2009, Democrats met and negotiated with three Republicans for several months before the tea party protests caused the GOP to back away from negotiations. The Finance Committee held its markup in September, and the full Senate vote did not take place until December.
In both the House and the Senate, “scores” by the independent Congressional Budget Office were available before each vote at each stage of the process. These scores are estimates of the effects of legislation on the budget and on the number of people who would be covered by health insurance.
Part of the reason some Republicans have seized upon the idea that Obamacare was rushed is undoubtedly that infamous Nancy Pelosi quote. Pelosi (D-Calif.), then House speaker, said in March 2010 that Democrats needed to "pass the [health care] bill so that you can find out what's in it." That sounded a lot like Democrats putting one over on the American public by ramming through legislation that people didn't fully understand.
But Pelosi's meaning seemed to be more that people would recognize the benefits once it was put into practice. And the bill had been in the public domain for months. The reconciliation process itself lasted for weeks — about the same time period Republicans are giving their entire bill.
There actually aren't a whole lot of quotes from Republicans way back when accusing Democrats of passing Obamacare too quickly. Instead, there are lots of comments taking issue with the specific maneuver that Democrats used — and the fact that the bill didn't get any Republican votes.
"They have sort of a Europeanized version of [health care reform] that they jammed through without a single Republican vote in the last Congress," then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in January 2011.
Then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) added around that same time: "We didn't have any open debate for both sides at all on the health care bill, the way it was jammed through."
So the speed of the legislation is one thing; the actual method of passage is what really irked Republicans. But that's also problematic for Republicans today, because they, too, are planning to use the budget reconciliation process. This allows them, again, to avoid a filibuster — but could also limit what they can accomplish.
The other problem for Republicans in moving this along so quickly is that there is no CBO score. Republicans have for years accused Democrats of budget gimmicks and a lack of transparency in the legislation that they have passed. Republicans ran on the idea of posting bills online for everyone to see and understand.
They insist there will be a CBO score before final passage, but the fact that the bill is making real progress without lawmakers' knowing what experts estimate its impact will be is very difficult to square with GOP complaints about Pelosi's comment. That sounds a lot like Republicans passing the bill before they find out what's in it.
But when the rubber really hits the road — and the GOP really opens itself up to charges of hypocrisy — is if and when it tries to pass this bill through reconciliation and likely with no bipartisan support. Just like Republicans attacked Democrats for doing almost exactly seven years ago.