Republicans are defending their closed-door effort to write a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare and say it's not necessary to have another round of public healthcare hearings that were seen when Democrats considered and passed Obamacare.
"Nobody is hiding the ball here," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters after another in a series of closed-door meetings with GOP lawmakers about the legislation. "You are free to ask anybody anything. But there have been gazillions of hearings on this subject when [Democrats] were in the majority, when we were in the majority. We understand the issue very well and we are now coming up with a solution."
McConnell defended the GOP effort hours after Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., denounced the lack of hearings on the developing GOP proposal.
"Senate Republicans' attempts to pass Trumpcare in the dark of night, without any transparency, is one of the most egregious examples of legislative malpractice in decades," Schumer said. He said the GOP wants to keep the process secret "because they are ashamed this new version of Trumpcare would result in American families paying more for less coverage, just so the uber-wealthy can get a new massive tax break."
Democrats held many hearings in the House and Senate before passing Obamacare and also held dozens of closed-door discussions, some of them bipartisan. But Democrats have so far refused to work with Republicans on a new healthcare reform bill unless the GOP abandons plans to repeal Obamacare.
"There is nothing the Senate can pass that can satisfy" Democrats, said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. As evidence, he pointed to Democrats in the California legislature who recently voted to pass a single-payer healthcare system that would cost more than double the state's existing budget.
The fight over transparency in the healthcare process emerged as the media became frantic over a move early Tuesday by Republican Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to enforce long-ignored prohibitions against hallway audio and video recording by reporters.
Shelby appeared to back off the crackdown by early afternoon, but not before reporters and many lawmakers criticized it. Democrats pointed to it as further evidence Republicans are trying to work in secrecy.
"This is no time for limiting press access in U.S. Senate," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the top Rules Committee Democrat, said on Twitter. "Russia hearings, Sessions testifying & (secret?) health care bill being drafted!"
McConnell later told reporters, "We're a press-friendly operation around here," but deferred to the Rules panel about the restrictions.
Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., said the process of writing a healthcare bill has included all GOP senators rather than only those belonging to healthcare-related committees and thus cannot be considered secretive.
"Our members have all been involved," Thune said. "This has really been a committee of the whole, unlike anything I have done since I have been here."
McConnell said lawmakers have spent seven years discussing healthcare reform in various committee hearings and public venues and suggested, for that reason, that there is no need for new hearings.
"It's not a new thing," McConnell said.
Lawmakers will be allowed to amend the bill on the floor under an open process, which Barrasso said could mean "50, 60 or 70 amendments" added to the legislation by either party.
"Amendments can change the direction of the bill," Barrasso said.
Democrats introduced legislation on Tuesday that would force Republicans to hold a hearing on their proposal. The bill would require any bill considered under special rules that curtail a filibuster to have hearings and a markup first.
"The No Hearing No Vote Act would ensure that every American would have a choice to see what's in the bill, to debate it in the open, and to make their voices heard," Schumer said.
Republicans plan to use the rule, which is known as reconciliation, to pass the healthcare bill with just 51 votes instead of 60.