The scandalous secrecy surrounding the Republican health care gambit

Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Trump's recent remarks about restricting Muslim travel during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Trump's recent remarks about restricting Muslim travel during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 8, 2015.

A group of Senate Republican men have been meeting in secret for weeks, trying to craft their own health care plan, which is reportedly near completion. Once it's done, the GOP blueprint will, oddly enough, remain a secret, Axios reported yesterday:

Senate Republicans are working to finish their draft health care bill, but have no plans to publicly release it, according to two senior Senate GOP aides."We aren't stupid," said one of the aides.

It's important to understand the sentiment behind the comment. The Senate Republican aide was effectively conceding that the GOP proposal will be awful and unpopular, and it'd be "stupid" to let the public see it because the scrutiny would risk derailing the entire effort.

The plan, therefore, is for conservative senators to finalize a plan, quietly share it with the Congressional Budget Office, and then rush it onto the floor for a vote. There would no hearings, no amendments, no expert testimony, no input from industry stakeholders, no bipartisan negotiations, and no transparency.

The word "un-American" is probably used a bit too often, usually to impugn others' patriotism, but in the case of Republicans overhauling the nation's health care system, the process is un-American in a rather literal sense. In the United States, we have a legislative system elected officials are supposed to use to pursue their goals and policy priorities. In 2017, however, Congress' GOP majority has decided to abandon the American policymaking model, without defense or explanation, while pushing life-or-death legislation affecting one-sixth of the world's largest economy.

There is nothing like this in the American tradition. Republican leaders are being so secretive about their health care overhaul that even other GOP senators have no idea what they'll soon be asked to pass. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said yesterday's he's "curious" what's in his party's proposal, before adding, "It's not a good process."

You don't say.

By one account, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he's not only unaware of his own party's health care blueprint, but he doesn't even want to know what's in it.

We could, to be sure, dwell on the breathtaking hypocrisy. In 2009 and 2010, after dozens of hours of public hearings and hundreds of hours of public debate, Republican lawmakers said they were outraged by the lack of transparency surrounding the Affordable Care Act's creation. And yet, here we are, watching GOP lawmakers employ a secretive legislative strategy unlike anything ever seen in the United States.

But under the circumstances, hypocrisy isn't near the top of the list of concerns right now. New York's Jon Chait made a compelling case yesterday that the GOP's antics deserve to be characterized as a "scandal."

It is difficult to think of an example of a law in the history of the United States that would have such a deep impact on so many people -- millions would find insurance no longer affordable -- drafted with so little public input. No hearings, no public examination of the details. Republican senators can claim the secret law is better than the deeply hated House version, but without laying out the trade-offs that allegedly make it so.In a normal political environment, a scandal is a distraction from a major bill, because major bills get passed by building public consensus. In this case, avoiding the public is the entire strategy. And the crafting of the bill is itself a scandal.

Republicans had a choice. They could've acted like a governing party, pursued their goals like grown-ups, and adopted a sensible legislative strategy built on evidence, consensus, expertise, and outcomes. No one forced, or even asked, GOP lawmakers to conduct themselves in such a ridiculous fashion.

But they chose this course anyway, largely because they saw it as necessary to achieve their regressive and ideological goals. If more Americans knew what was transpiring in their name, Republicans would be facing an extraordinary backlash -- which is precisely why they're clinging to secrecy with all their might.