GOP takes heat for ObamaCare secrecy

House Republicans are coming under growing pressure to release their ObamaCare repeal and replace plan ahead of committee markups that could begin next week.

Even some Republican lawmakers are criticizing their party for the lack of access to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's draft bill, which is apparently being kept in a designated room in the Capitol where entry is limited to certain members.

“We want to see the bill. We have many objections,” Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLexington mayor launches bid for Congress Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics Meet the Iran hawk who could be Trump's next secretary of State MORE (R-Ky.) told a swarm of reporters Thursday as he tried to get into the room where he thought the bill was located. “We're here asking for a written copy of this because this should be an open and transparent process.” 

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Paul has serious objections to multiple elements of the House GOP plan and is threatening to oppose the measure if it includes them.

Other Republicans are defending the process for the healthcare bill, saying members need the space to work on the measure before it is finalized and released.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) is pushing to get healthcare legislation passed and sent to the Senate by the end of March, an aggressive timeline that will require the Republicans to begin public markups soon.

Democrats complain that they are being kept in the dark about the legislation and fear they will not have enough chance to review it before a committee vote. They also note that there have not been hearings about the plan, something that traditionally happens before legislation is marked up in committee.

The repeal bill is moving so quickly that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) might not have a chance to score it before the Energy and Commerce Committee’s vote, according to Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.).

Without the CBO analysis, lawmakers would be voting on the measure without estimates of how much the legislation would cost or how many people could lose or gain insurance coverage.

The general charge that the Republicans are moving in secret on ObamaCare repeal created a circus atmosphere in the Capitol on Thursday as a series of lawmakers arrived at a room they had heard contained the Energy and Commerce Committee's draft bill, only to be told it was not there. 

Democrats soon arrived on the scene, amplifying media attention on what they view as a lack of transparency around the Republican plan.

"I think they're afraid," Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said of Republicans' move not to release the bill yet. "I think they're afraid it will show that it really doesn't cover most of the people that received coverage under the Affordable Care Act." 

Asked why his committee would not have a hearing on the bill before the committee vote, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference Overnight Finance: GOP delays work on funding bill amid conservative demands | Senate panel approves Fed nominee Powell | Dodd-Frank rollback advances | WH disputes report Mueller subpoenaed Trump bank records MORE (R-Texas) on Thursday pointed to the “Better Way” healthcare plan outline that House Republicans put forward last year. 

“This is an issue members know deep in their heart, because we’ve been in this fight for four to six years, and last year we spent a great deal of time as House Republicans creating the Better Way blueprint on healthcare reform,” Brady told reporters. “Those elements in the blueprint have been public now since last summer.”

Asked if a CBO analysis of the bill, known as a score, would be ready before the committee vote, Brady did not commit, saying: “We’re working toward having a CBO score as soon as possible.” 

He also defended the process as transparent and stressed that the legislation is not finished.

"We don’t have a bill,” he said. “We’re continuing to work with CBO and our members on the final product. When we do that, when we finalize that, we will announce the markup, post that bill publicly and follow the rules of the House, which are very transparent."

House Democrats on Thursday distributed a timeline of their process in 2009 passing ObamaCare, noting that they released draft legislation and held hearings on it in mid-June of that year. A CBO analysis was then publicly posted at the same time as the committee votes in mid-July. The bill then did not pass the full House until November. 

Some Republican lawmakers on Thursday, though, criticized the CBO and downplayed the importance of receiving its analysis. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, pointed to the way the CBO does “dynamic scoring,” which is supposed to take into account the broader economic effects of legislation. 

“The way they do dynamic scoring, if a business did dynamic scoring the way they did it, we'd be thrown in jail, so I don't put a whole lot of stock in their scoring,” Mullin said. “I do like to understand where they're coming from, though, but sometimes it doesn't make any sense on how they do it.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) added: “No offense to the CBO, they work very hard there, but I don't think they're very accurate a lot of times, and they operate with a lot of arcane assumptions.” 

Some Republicans, though, are not satisfied. Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessHarvey response puts squeeze on GOP Medicaid efficiency is needed now, more than ever In the politics of healthcare reform, past is prologue MORE (R-Texas), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, disagreed with the panel’s decision to require lawmakers to go to a designated room to see the draft bill. 

“Had anyone asked my advice: Let’s show our work. It’s time,” Burgess told MSNBC Wednesday night. “Put your pencils down and turn your paper in.”

In response to the range of concerns on Thursday, Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement that his panel is engaging in the “regular process of keeping its members up to speed on latest developments.”

Republicans have for years argued that Democrats passed ObamaCare without enough of a public process, often invoking then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) remark that “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”  

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the top Ways and Means Democrat, countered Republicans Thursday by saying: “How can you read it if you can’t even find it?”