GOP Senators Are Frustrated by Closed Health Care Process but Won’t Do Anything About It Before Vote

Independent Journal Review/Haley Byrd

Senate Republicans are frustrated with their closed health care process, yet still aren’t planning to do anything about it before a potential vote on the GOP health bill next week.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is negotiating the details of his chamber’s version of a health care bill behind closed doors leading up to a swift tentative vote next week, leaving most of his GOP colleagues in the dark on the bill’s details.

“It has become increasingly apparent over the past few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing this bill within this working group, it’s not being written by us,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in a video Tuesday. “So, if you’re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration wholeheartedly.”

But Lee added he would be willing to vote on a bill with short notice as long as he’s seen the text.

Wanted: ‘Open Process’

Many Republican senators have been quick to denounce the party’s secretive process. They’re not as quick to do something about it, even though just two or three members could drastically alter McConnell’s approach by withholding their support until the process was made more open.

“I’ve always said I would have preferred a more open process,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told reporters Tuesday morning.

A reporter asked Cassidy why, if he’s not comfortable with the process for the health care bill, wouldn’t he refuse to support a bill until hearings are held? Cassidy’s response sounded like it came straight from a saying on an embroidered pillow.

“In life, if you only wait for that which is exactly what you wish to have, you end up living on an island by yourself,” Cassidy said. He continued:

“The Democrats keep complaining about, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s not an open process.’ If two or three Democrats walked into Mitch McConnell’s room and said, ‘You have our vote for this,’ it would have incredible impact. But if just wait and say, ‘Oh we want an open process,’ then you never get that. At some point you’ve got to play with the cards dealt to you. And that’s true of almost everything in life.”

In fact, Republicans have done exactly what they attacked Democrats for doing in 2010: using what they argued was a closed, secretive process for their health care bill.

McConnell even denounced the Democratic strategy to push the Affordable Care Act through Congress via a budgetary measure known as reconciliation at the time, describing it as “last-ditch legislative sleight-of-hand.”

Today, McConnell and the rest of the GOP have embraced that tactic, and have taken it to another, more partisan level.

Today vs. 2010

Leading up to the Obamacare vote in 2010, the Senate Finance Committee held more than 50 hearings and meetings on the subject of health care legislation. The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a similar number of hearings and meetings.

GOP lawmakers haven’t held a single committee hearing on their bill, and they don’t intend to hold any before next week’s vote.

And through their secretive approach, Republicans are giving themselves enough cover to say they know what’s going on with the bill without taking many public positions on details of the unpopular legislative push.

“I’ve been in the past six or seven meetings, so I have a pretty strong sense of where this is going,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) said in a press scrum Tuesday morning.

When a reporter asked if the bill seemed like something he could support, Corker didn’t give an answer. “Again, I haven’t seen the text.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who staged an elaborate search for the House version of a GOP health care bill in March, also complained about the lack of transparency from Republican leadership in the Senate.

Paul conceded Tuesday that it might be time to bring out his copying machine in an attempt to liberate the secret legislation again.

If he can wait a few more days, that won’t be necessary. McConnell said in a press conference that the health care bill text would be available Thursday, leaving about a week to review the legislation before a tentative vote.

But there won’t be many answers to the big questions of the GOP health care debate until the GOP health care debate is over.

“None of it’s done until it’s all done,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters after a health care meeting Tuesday. “There’s a lot of moving parts.”

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