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A group of high-ranking Republican senators has been crafting a bill that will repeal Obamacare and impact the lives of tens of millions of Americans—and they’ve done it all in secret.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week, on Thursday, without a prior debate, public hearing or a pre-release of legislative text.
A look through the old tweets of lawmakers who have now defended the closed-door process used to craft the Senate’s healthcare bill reveals a stunning change of tune.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed the American Healthcare Act which also aimed to repeal large portions of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The AHCA would dramatically change the structure of the healthcare exchanges and shift the financial burden from more affluent Americans to poor and elderly Americans. Ultimately, the bill is estimated to result in 23 million fewer people with health insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
At the time, House Republicans were forced to revise and amend the legislation in order to appease the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. In exchange for the concessions, the voting bloc finally offered their support and the bill passed, sending it to the Senate. However, Senate leaders simply said they weren’t going to vote on it and decided to craft their own entirely separate bill.
Drafting the new piece of legislation are 13 Republican senators—all men—and they’re doing it in all behind closed doors. Among them are some major GOP figures, including Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The senators working on the Senate health care bill:— Dylan Scott (@dylanlscott) May 5, 2017
Leading Democrat senators come out swinging against the closed door process as anti-democratic. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a Democrat who sits on the Senate health committee, even issued a letter “complete with a list of all 31 potential rooms to hold a formal committee.”
This move has also alienated some moderate Republican legislators—like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)—who are now cautiously awaiting the outcome, while criticising the lack of transparency, before offering final approval.
Other Republicans, such as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), appear more than comfortable with exclusion from the process since it means not have to wrangle through specifics with reporters.
Back in 2009, Democrats were also negotiating key parts of the Obamacare legislation in private, including cost estimates. Then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, during a speech, that Democrats had engaged in the process this way “to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”
This caused outrage among many Republicans who opposed the proposed Obamacare provisions politically. Some key figures very publicly tweeted their displeasure over how the Affordable Care Act was unveiled.
Many in the frustrated GOP minority of the time peddled the spun notion that the Affordable Care Act had been conjured up in secret. In fact, the Obamacare legislation had received 60 hours of committee hearings and was subject to more than 500 amendments in the months before it was voted on. By contrast, the new Republican healthcare bill will not have had a single one—making it a bill that was truly manufactured behind closed doors.
So, understandably, the tweets of those congressmen who had been most vocal about Obamacare’s alleged ‘secrecy’ are now coming under fire for their seeming unwillingness to hold their own party colleagues to the same procedural accountability.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) slammed both Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Monday for their poorly aging comments on Obamacare’s unveiling.
Here’s what Senator Alexander said back then: pic.twitter.com/hqtTtzOdLl— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 20, 2017
And here is what Senator Hatch had to say: pic.twitter.com/eyetbTWzuR— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 20, 2017
Of the other Republican senators in the club drafting the new GOP healthcare bill, the Daily Dot found that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) had also explicitly criticised the Democrats in a 2010 tweet.
The people have a right to know what is happening behind closed doors with secret HC negotiations— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) January 7, 2010
Like Sen. Cornyn, however, other Republicans who tweeted their disgust at secret healthcare negotiations have, seemingly, had a change of heart on the practice as quiet advocates of it.
Take former Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) for example:
With Democrats discussing health care in secret, they're sacrificing the trust of the American people.— Tom Price (@RepTomPrice) January 14, 2010
Or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who branded Obamacare’s passage as a “disgrace,” demanding “transparency.”
Obama's health care plan - show us the bill.— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) September 10, 2009
Democrats about to pass health care bill that no one’s read - where is the transparency? What a disgrace!— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) November 6, 2009
Kicking with the other foot on Monday, Sen. Mitch McConnell published a “flashback” account of Obamacare’s passage as to actually excuse the current lack of transparency.
One notable GOP critic of the Democrat negotiations in 2009 was then-congressman Vice President Mike Pence. Pence’s tweet called out closed door negotiations as “simply wrong” yet remains silent now that it is his party at the helm.
It's simply wrong for legislation that'll affect 100% of the American people to be negotiated behind closed doors - http://ow.ly/W9gq #hcr— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) January 13, 2010
This blatant hypocrisy was not lost to the internet. The 7-year-old tweet has resurfaced and has recirculated online.
NOT Tweeted in June 2017.— Stuart Hazeldine (@stuarthazeldine) June 20, 2017
You're a hypocrite. We see you Mike.— Melonie Diaz (@Melonie_Diaz) June 20, 2017
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.