When a reporter noted the other day that Senate Republicans are pushing a health care bill amid a level of secrecy "not seen since before World War I," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) dismissed the observation as "crazy talk." In this case, the GOP gambit may be "crazy," but the charge is true.
Don Ritchie, the official historian emeritus of the U.S. Senate, told the L.A. Times last week that during the Wilson administration, Senate Democrats crafted major tariff reforms in secret, but such an approach to federal legislating "hasn't happened since." The report on the GOP's health care scheme, citing Ritchie's analysis, added, "[N]ot since the years before World War I has the Senate taken such a partisan, closed-door approach to major legislation."
The truth may make Cornyn uncomfortable, but that doesn't make it wrong.
The same article had this striking quote from a key Republican senator:
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said holding public hearings about the legislation would only give Democrats more opportunity to attack the bill.
"We have zero cooperation from the Democrats," he said. "So getting it in public gives them a chance to get up and scream."
It's a fascinating, albeit bizarre, perspective. To hear Orrin Hatch tell it, there's nothing especially problematic with Republicans tackling a health care overhaul -- life-or-death legislation, affecting one-sixth of the world's largest economy -- in total secrecy, because if there was transparency, some might criticize the legislation.
In fairness, several GOP senators have publicly criticized their own party's process. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who appeared on multiple Sunday shows yesterday, conceded that the Republicans' approach isn't ideal. "The Senate is not a place where you can cook up something behind closed doors," he said on CBS.
There's a lot of this going around. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and others have publicly acknowledged that there are real problems with the way in which their party is trying to pass a secret health care bill.
But no one should be too impressed with their candor.