In Washington, the need to spin is strong. Which is why it’s so amazing that Senate Republicans aren’t even trying to spin their secret health care negotiations as anything but: Yeah, this isn’t good.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was asked Tuesday by MSNBC’s Willie Geist if seeing the bill this week for the first time and voting on it in next week is enough time.
Corker’s answer: “Well, that’s — it looks like the time that’s going to be allotted.” He went on: ” … I would have liked, as you already know, for this to be a more open process and have committee hearings. But that’s not what we’re doing.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was more blunt:
— David Wright (@DavidWright_CNN) June 20, 2017
And Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) just straight up acknowledged the fact that in 2010, Republicans might as well have been criticizing their future, 2017 selves:
John Berman: Is there a “touch of irony” that Republicans are writing health care bill in secret?
GOP Sen Mike Rounds: “No question.” @CNN
— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) June 20, 2017
This is not how Republicans wanted this to go.
They control Washington. They can finally make good on their near-universal promise to repeal Obamacare. And instead of publicly celebrating that, they’re negotiating a bill in secret — and more or less criticizing themselves for it. The Senate could vote on a version of the House’s health-care bill as soon as next week, and key senators, as well as the Health and Human Services secretary and possibly the president haven’t seen it.
(Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on Tuesday that the bill could become public by Thursday.)
McConnell: “Everyone will have an adequate time to take a look at it.”
— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) June 20, 2017
Republicans might not be able to defend keeping their health-care bill secret until the last minute, but they have a reason for it: The blowback for keeping it secret is a lesser evil than the blowback for negotiating it in public.
Last month, they watched House Republicans negotiate their bill in the open, and they saw a torturous process. Every iteration was extensively reported by the media. Lawmakers went back home and got yelled at by their constituents for supporting a bill that could cut their benefits, or that doesn’t fully repeal Obamacare. Republicans had to pull the bill from the floor at the last minute because they couldn’t get enough support from their own party; an embarrassing and humbling moment.
Senate Republicans have been crafting their version of a bill for more than a month now, but because most of them don’t know what’s in it, we haven’t written any stories about it, and opposition hasn’t had time to harden.
Actually, opposition probably won’t have time to harden if McConnell gets his way: There will be about a week between the bill being introduced and a vote, and lawmakers won’t have more than a long weekend back home.
By contrast, the 2009-2010 Obamacare negotiations had months of public hearings before ultimately being finished up behind closed doors. In 2010 and now, both sides say they were forced into secrecy by a minority party that only wanted to stall.
Yes, McConnell gets awarded flip flops from The Post’s Fact Checker for overseeing “the most secretive health-care bill process ever.” Yes, Democrats get to thrust “hypocrisy” in the faces of their colleagues. And, yes, Republicans are doing something that, by their own definition, is indefensible.
But from Republicans’ perspective, they don’t have a choice. The Republican Party is too ideologically fractured, and the margin of victory in the Senate too slim (Republicans can afford to lose two GOP votes) to craft a health care bill out in the open.
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