Senate Republicans criticize own party’s healthcare process

Several Senate Republicans are criticizing their own party for negotiating and writing an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill largely behind closed doors and without input from Democrats. 

“Healthcare is such an important thing. I think we should have debated it in open, in committee hearings, have both sides bring in witnesses,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.

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“I would like a more open process, that's for sure,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another key vote on the bill.

Republican leaders plan to call a vote on the healthcare measure next week even though there is not yet legislative text; lawmakers still don’t know the entirety of what will be in the legislation.

Senate Republicans also did not hold any committee hearings on their bill, instead crafting it behind closed doors. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock McConnell PAC demands Moore return its money Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that a “discussion draft” of the bill would be presented to Republicans on Thursday, giving lawmakers about a week to review it.

“We’re going to lay out a discussion draft Thursday morning,” he told reporters. “You’ll be able to take a look at it.”

But some Republicans say they should have seen the bill long ago.

Conservative Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeProminent conservative passes on Utah Senate bid Johnson says he will not support tax-reform bill Moore endorsements disappear from campaign website MORE (R-Utah) delivered perhaps the sharpest critique of the secretive process.

“Even though I’ve been a member of this working group among Senate Republicans assigned to help narrow some of the focus of this, I haven’t seen the bill,” Lee said in a video on his Facebook page.

“And it has become increasingly apparent in the last few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill within this working group, it’s not being written by us, it’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate.”

Lee added that if the vote is going to be next week, “we should have been able to see it weeks ago.”

Yet despite the complaints from GOP senators, none have said they will vote against the bill because of the rushed process. Many could end up voting for the legislation anyway.   

Paul, asked if he would have enough time to review the bill before a vote next week, said, “That’s a big question.” 

Murkowski said she hasn’t seen a bill and doesn’t know how she’ll vote.

“I cannot say what I would vote for if I haven’t seen it,” she said. “That’s where a real problem is, because nobody — I shouldn’t say that. This person has not seen anything.” 

Before McConnell’s announcement Tuesday afternoon, even senators were not sure when they would see the text.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said Tuesday morning he had heard from the “rumor mill” that he would see the text later this week but had not heard that from McConnell.

Asked if he was comfortable voting next week without having seen a bill as of Tuesday, Cassidy said: “I’ve always said I would have preferred a more open process.”

Democrats have seized on the secrecy surrounding the bill in an attempt to divide Republicans and stop ObamaCare repeal in its tracks.

Three Senate Democrats went to the Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday to draw attention to the lack of a public bill.

“If they were proud of the bill, they would announce it,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJuan Williams: The politics of impeachment Texas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' MORE (N.Y.), pointing to the 23 million additional people who the Congressional Budget Office projected would become uninsured under the House version of the bill. “They would have brass bands going down Main Street America saying, ‘Look at our bill.’ They can’t even whisper what it’s about — they are so, so ashamed of it.”

McConnell pushed back against criticism of the process on Tuesday, telling reporters he found complaints on the subject “laughable.” 

He noted that in 2009, Democrats held a vote on ObamaCare on Christmas Eve in the Senate.

Asked by a reporter how many days the public would have to review the bill, McConnell said: “Everybody will have an adequate time to take a look at it.”

“I think this will be about as transparent as it could be,” he said. “No transparency would have been added by having hearings in which Democrats offered endless single-payer-system amendments. That is not what this Republican Senate was sent here to do.” 

In 2009, the Senate considered 
ObamaCare for 25 straight legislative days, and the Finance Committee held more than 50 hearings, with eight days to mark up the bill with amendments. 

Leaders point out that all senators will have the opportunity to offer amendments to the bill, which will then be voted on in a long series known as a “vote-a-rama.”

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said there would “absolutely” be enough time to review the bill before a vote next week.  

“We’ve all been debating this for seven years, and the House bill is sort of the starting point in the Senate. I expect there to be some changes, but I think there will be plenty of time,” he said. “We’ll have a vote-a-rama, there will be dozens if not hundreds of amendments, and we will debate as long as the Democrats want to debate.”

This story was updated at 6:30 p.m.