Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted privacy. For the last few weeks, a small army of staffers, lobbyists, and healthcare experts huddled secretly to work on the Obamacare overhaul. But the Kentucky Republican wasn't always so coy.
More of a showman while minority leader, McConnell actually printed out all of Obamacare, along with its tens of thousands of regulations when he addressed conservative activists gathered for CPAC.
"I want you to take a look at that stack of paper behind me," McConnell said. "It's the most powerful argument yet against Obamacare. What you're seeing is 20,000 pages of rules and regulation."
That legislative tower has probably been relegated to the shredding heaps of the Senate office buildings. But what McConnell said next will loom over the current healthcare debate until some bill finds its way to Trump's desk. "Obamacare," he promised "should be repealed root and branch."
Four years later, Senate Republicans have finally delivered. On Thursday, McConnell's office released a 142-page discussion draft, which would only hack away some of the tens of thousands of Obamacare regulations. Just hours after the big reveal, several have already started using McConnell's words against him.
Already a conservative quartet of Sens. Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul have objected to the draft. Skeptical from the beginning, Paul insisted that any bill that gets his vote "has gotta look like what we promised."
"I mean we promised — I heard people, I travelled the country," Paul said, before adding with a wink and a bit of a sneer, "I heard other Republicans say ‘we're going to rip it out root and branch' thousands of times."
And that's where the current healthcare debate stands. In the coming days, weeks, and maybe months, those roots and branches and that tower stack of papers that McConnell brought onstage will loom over the entire debate.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.