The top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee charged Tuesday that it's "unacceptable" for Republicans to be writing their healthcare reform bill in private.
"I can't say how strongly enough how unacceptable this is," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said at a hearing on rising drug prices.
Murray was upset about the Republicans' decision to bypass the committee process to write their own version of the American Health Care Act, which has already passed the House. A working group of about 14 senators has been hashing out healthcare ideas and is expected to look at a draft of the bill soon.
The bill, which would partially repeal Obamacare, passed the House by a 217-213 margin at the beginning of May.
"Given this committee's long track record of bipartisan successes, I am surprised and disappointed that we would allow this to happen," Murray said. "People deserve public debate about the future of our healthcare system."
HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., bristled when Murray again brought up Obamacare during the question and answer period. Alexander noted that he called the committee hearing after requests from both Democrats and Republicans and appeared increasingly frustrated at the references to Obamacare.
"You asked me the question about Obamacare, which is not the subject of today's hearing," Alexander said in responding to a question from Murray about hearings on the healthcare bill. "If that is the way you want to spend your time, fine."
Democrats have increasingly complained about the GOP process in hearings unrelated to Obamacare. Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chided Republicans during a Health and Human Services budget hearing for not holding committee hearings on the bill.
Some Senate Republicans have lamented the process as well. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she would have rather gone through the committee process. But other Republicans have defended the process. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said there will be plenty of time for amendments to be offered on the Senate floor.