Seven years ago, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used a phrase Republicans loved in reference to the Affordable Care Act: "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy." For the right, it was evidence that Democrats were pushing reform legislation in secret.Conservatives were, however, taking Pelosi out of context. The Democratic leader was making the case that Americans would begin to appreciate the ACA's benefits once it was fully implemented, which would help the public separate the facts from the hysterical fictions pushed by reform's opponents.Nevertheless, Republicans and much of the media had a field day with Pelosi's quote -- which is wonderfully ironic seven years later, as GOP leaders quietly push their secret health care reform proposal. Bloomberg Politics reported last night:
House Republican leaders have a new version of their major Obamacare repeal and replacement bill. They just don't want you to see it.The document is being treated a bit like a top-secret surveillance intercept. It is expected to be available to members and staffers on the House and Energy Commerce panel starting Thursday, but only in a dedicated reading room, one Republican lawmaker and a committee aide said. Nobody will be given copies to take with them.... With this latest draft, leaders are taking additional steps to make sure it doesn't leak prematurely, before some members have signed onto it.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told NBC's "Today" show this week, "We're not hatching some bill in a backroom and plopping it on the American people's front door." That's half-true: Republicans are hatching some bill in a backroom and plopping it in a basement near the Capitol for some committee members to read in private.Usually, when Republicans talk about "secret plans," they're lying. Richard Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, but he didn't. Donald Trump said he had a secret plan to destroy ISIS, but it was fantasy.But on health care reform, Republicans really do have a secret plan, which is bizarre.In fact, GOP leaders are also hiding their bill from the Congressional Budget Office, at least for now, which means members of the House and Energy Commerce may soon begin work on the legislation before they know how much the plan will cost or how many Americans the blueprint will cover.After years of bizarre complaints about Democrats legislating in a way that lacked transparency -- complaints that never really made any sense -- Republicans now have a plan written behind closed doors, released behind closed doors, and read behind closed doors.When Republican members review the secret documents, they won't be allowed to make copies to take with them for further review.What's the point of all this secrecy? Last week, an earlier draft of a Republican health care plan leaked, and intra-party divisions grew more severe, with various factions quickly insisting that they'd reject that blueprint. GOP leaders are hoping for a smoother and less contentious rollout of Plan 2.0, walking Republican members through the details before the proposal is attacked. The Speaker's office hopes to quietly persuade some GOP lawmakers of the plan's merits, which might build some momentum going forward.This does not strike me as a sound plan. Ryan & Co. are simply delaying the inevitable -- everyone, even congressional Democrats, will see the plan soon enough -- and the cloak-and-dagger tactics won't stop the critiques.