In Washington, the need to spin is strong. Which is why it's so amazing that Senate Republicans aren't even trying to spin their secret health-care negotiations as anything but: Yeah, this isn't good.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was asked Tuesday by MSNBC's Willie Geist if getting a first look at the bill this week and then voting on it next week allows for enough time.
Corker's answer: “Well, that's — it looks like the time that's going to be allotted.” He went on: “I would have liked, as you already know, for this to be a more open process and have committee hearings. But that's not what we're doing.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was more blunt:
And Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) just straight up acknowledged the fact that in 2010, Republicans might as well have been criticizing their future, 2017 selves:
This is not how Republicans wanted this to go.
They control Washington. They can finally make good on their near-universal promise to repeal Obamacare. And instead of publicly celebrating that, they're negotiating a bill in secret — and more or less criticizing themselves for it. The Senate could vote on a version of the House's health-care bill as soon as next week, and key senators — as well as the health and human services secretary and possibly even the president — haven't seen it.
(Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that the bill could become public by Thursday.)
Republicans might not be able to defend keeping their health-care bill secret until the last minute, but they have a reason for doing it: They're calculating that the blowback for keeping it secret is a lesser evil than the blowback for negotiating it in public.
Last month, they watched House Republicans negotiate their bill in the open, and they saw a torturous process. Every iteration was extensively reported by the media. Lawmakers went home and got yelled at by their constituents for supporting a bill that could cut their benefits — or that wouldn't fully repeal Obamacare. Republicans had to pull the bill from the floor at the last minute because they couldn't get enough support from their own party; an embarrassing and humbling moment.
Senate Republicans have been crafting their version of the bill for more than a month now. But because most of them don't know what's in it, we haven't written any stories about it, and opposition hasn't had time to harden.
Actually, opposition probably won't have time to coalesce if McConnell gets his way: There will be about a week between the bill's introduction and a vote, and lawmakers won't have more than a long weekend back home.
By contrast, the 2009-2010 Obamacare negotiations included months of public hearings before they were ultimately finished behind closed doors. In 2010 and now, both sides say they were forced into secrecy by a minority party that wanted only to stall.
But Republicans have taken the secrecy to a new level, refusing to even hold committee hearings.
The result is that, yes, McConnell gets awarded flip-flops from The Washington Post's Fact Checker for overseeing “the most secretive health-care bill process ever.” Yes, Democrats get to thrust “hypocrisy” in the faces of their colleagues. And yes, Republicans are doing something that, by their own definition, is indefensible.
But from Republicans' perspective, they don't have a choice. Their party is too ideologically fractured, and the margin of victory in the Senate too slim (Republicans can afford to lose just two GOP votes), to craft a health-care bill in the open, despite the fact that most Republican senators wish this process were more transparent.