Republican senators are planning to keep the health care bill they’re crafting secret from the public as long as possible while they tailor it to get above 50 votes and while the Congressional Budget Office scores it.
When asked on Monday evening if the GOP would submit the health care bill to the CBO before releasing the legislative text publicly, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) quickly answered, “Oh, yeah.”
Even GOP senators are being left out of the loop.
Legislative text of the evolving bill does exist, but GOP leaders are still working to include changes to the refundable tax credits from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) bill, a Republican Senate aide said.
Once those changes are incorporated, the Senate GOP will send the legislation as written to the CBO to be scored prior to a vote, which GOP lawmakers hope can happen before the July 4 recess.
Axios first reported on Monday that Senate leaders don’t plan to publicize their health care plan at any point before it is absolutely necessary.
“It’s still being formulated, and I think it’s coming together,” said Thune. “There’s a lot of feedback with the CBO trying to get scores on things, a lot of policy options. But it’s coming.”
Several Republican senators who spoke with the Independent Journal Review on Monday evening indicated they don’t expect the Senate leadership to unveil the text of the bill at Tuesday’s policy lunch.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) was surprised to hear reporters ask him about legislative text of the health care bill, which two Senate aides told IJR was nearly complete as a rough draft Monday night.
“I don’t know if we have text,” Gardner answered. Reporters told him the preliminary text exists. “You do know? Then you know better than me,” he said.
A conservative Senate aide said their office hadn’t seen any bill text either.
“We are assuming since they sent it to CBO today that it will then make its way to K Street, then to Politico, then we will see it. You know, the way government is supposed to work,” the aide sarcastically told IJR.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) defended the GOP leadership, promising the health care push would be an open process. “There will be plenty of time for amendments to be written and offered on the floor,” he said.
But Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a key figure in the Senate’s health care debate, said he wasn’t as confident in the process.
“Until I see the language, I don’t know what’s there,” Cassidy explained.
Others aren’t as eager to see the plan at all. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a vocal critic of the GOP’s health care strategy, told reporters he knew no details of the bill on Monday night. When a reporter asked if Graham would like to see more information, the senator responded simply, “No.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also disagreed with the GOP leadership’s secretive approach.
“This is, unfortunately, a fact-free zone around here,” he said. “I come from a manufacturing background. I’ve solved a lot of problems. It starts with the information,” Johnson told reporters. “Around here, the last step is getting information, which doesn’t seem like necessarily the most effective process.”
Republicans can only afford to lose two members’ votes on the health care bill in the Senate, which would then trigger Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote for its passage.
As McConnell’s bill continues to lean further left on Obamacare regulations and the GOP’s roll back of the Medicaid expansion, conservative lawmakers could pose the greatest threat to the legislation.
McConnell is caught between trying to negotiate with conservative senators like Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on one end, or moderate senators like Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on the other, in attempting to piece together votes throughout the week.