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The Republican Senate has been working in secrecy this week on the American Health Care Act, obscuring the details of the legislation from their Democratic colleagues and the public alike. But they may not be the only ones being kept in the dark.
In interviews with eight Republican senators over the course of the week, Vox reporters found that none of them could adequately explain the specifics of the bill, nor could they discuss how it will improve health care in the U.S. The most these senators could provide was a diagnosis of the problems in the current system—rising premiums being one of the top issues—along with the subsequent goals they’d like new legislation to achieve.
Sen. John McCain offered a series of answers that boredered on non-sequiturs. When asked what problems the Senate’s bill is trying to solve, McCain said, “Almost all of them. They’re trying to get to 51 votes.” McCain also dodged a question asking if the bill will fix problems in the current health care system under the Affordable Care Act.
“What I hear is that we have not reached consensus,” he said. “That’s what everybody knows.”
Several Republican senators admitted that there is no concrete bill yet and that they are unfamiliar with its provisions—just like the public.
“Well, we don’t have a bill,” Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas told Vox reporter Jeff Stein. “That’s what we’re working on.”
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski repeated several times that she does not know anything about the bill she can share with her constituents.
“I don’t know what it is that will actually come forward,” Murkowski said. “This has been part of my frustration. What’s the Senate bill going to look like? I don’t know.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia could not answer a simple yes or no question as to whether she felt confident the legislation would accomplish what the Affordable Care Act could not.
“That’s the goal,” she said.
Even Tom Price, the head of the Health and Human Services Department, has not seen a draft of the bill. During a hearing Thursday, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked if Price or anyone in his department has seen what Senate Republicans have been working on.
“I’ve had multiple conversations with senators who are interested in making certain that we have a health care system that works for patients. My staff has provided technical assistance,” Price said. “I haven’t seen any legislative language.”
This is rather stunning. @SecPriceMD tells @SenatorDurbin he hasn’t seen the Senate GOP health care bill either.
— Matt House (@mattwhouse) June 15, 2017
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is also yet to examine the bill, even though the Senate Finance Committee he chairs has jurisdiction over the legislation. When a reporter asked what was in the newest version of the American Health Care Act, Hatch could only answer, “Well, join the crowd. I’m in the same category.”
These answers, or the total absence thereof, are only likely to further compound criticism of the Senate GOP. So far, no Senate hearings have been scheduled to discuss the bill, nor has a draft been released to the public. Republican senators even attempted to clamp down on the press on Tuesday by establishing a rule banning on-camera interviews in congressional hallways. That plan was later rescinded. Mainstream media have also been complicit in keeping the bill a mystery, as a report from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting showed that no major newspaper or nightly network news program has adequately covered the bill’s impending passage.
The Senate’s goal is to vote on the AHCA—which is being worked on by a group of 13 men—by the July 4th recess. Once the bill is finished, it will be sent to the Congressional Budget Office, where it will be evaluated and scored over two weeks. The quickness with which Senate Republicans want to pass the bill, however, could mean it’s signed into law before the CBO scores are released. A similar process occurred when the House passed their version of Trumpcare in early May.