Trio of conservative Republicans rip Senate healthcare process

A trio of key conservative senators is publicly raising concerns about the GOP bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, specifically questioning the decision to draft the legislation behind closed doors. 

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeMcConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (R-Utah) said Tuesday he's getting calls from constituents concerned about the Senate healthcare bill, which is still being finalized. 

"If you're frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly,” he said in a Facebook Live video.

“The American people need and deserve to be able to see legislation as it moves through the Senate," Lee added. 

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He said he backs voting on a healthcare bill "soon," but said the Senate bill should have already been released if the chamber were to vote next week.

"We should have been able to see it weeks ago if we were going to voting on it next week," Lee said. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters on Tuesday that he expects to have a "draft discussion" of the Senate's healthcare bill ready on Thursday. 

Republicans want to hold a vote on the bill as soon as next week. They aren't expected to hold a hearing on the legislation, and several GOP senators signaled Tuesday that they are still unsure about what would be included in the legislation. 

Lee is a member of the working group convened by McConnell, but said he hasn't seen the draft text yet and hasn't been involved in writing the legislation. 

"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," he said during the Facebook interview. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.) seemed to echo Lee’s concerns, and demurred Tuesday when asked if he thought he would have enough time to review the bill.

He told reporters "that's a big question,” he said, adding, “Healthcare is such an important thing. I think we should have debated it in open, in committee hearings, have both sides bring in witnesses.”

Paul has recently focused on a push to keep some of ObamaCare's subsidies in the GOP legislation, and warned on Tuesday that he isn't inclined to support "anything that's a new entitlement program." 

"I'm not saying how I'm voting ‘til I see what's in the bill. I still think there's a chance that if we don't get 50 votes, we renegotiate what's in the bill completely. I think we could start over," he told Bloomberg

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape O'Rourke says he will not 'in any scenario' run for Senate MORE (R-Texas), who is also a member of the working group with Lee, defended the process on Tuesday, arguing that complaints from Democrats who feel left out of the process are "fairly amusing." 

"There has been no political issue in modern times more debated than ObamaCare," he told reporters. 

But Cruz also signaled dissatisfaction with the emerging Senate legislation, saying it's "got a long way to go." 

"In particular, we need [to do] a substantially better job of driving down the cost of premiums. That remains my number one priority," he said. 

Cruz, Lee, and Paul represent three key conservative votes for GOP leadership. 

Republicans have a 52-seat majority in the Senate, meaning they can only lose two GOP votes and still be able to use Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceFEC chair calls on Trump to provide evidence of NH voter fraud Five years after Yazidi genocide, US warns ISIS is rebounding Log Cabin Republicans endorse Trump MORE to break a tie. 

Cruz, Lee and Paul previously teamed up to push for "full repeal" of ObamaCare.

If they band together on the Senate legislation, they would be able to block any bill they opposed. 

Conservatives are warning Senate leadership against moving the bill to far to the middle. They’ve specifically taken issue with a longer phase out of Medicaid expansion and keeping in place some of ObamaCare’s taxes for longer than the House-passed bill. 

A GOP source familiar with the negotiations also told The Hill that McConnell has so far refused to promise conservatives to let states opt out of the community rating requirement — which keeps health plans more affordable for sick people but sends premiums soaring — or to exempt states altogether from the regulatory mandate and allow them to opt in.