Shortly after the House of Representatives voted on the American Health Care Act, it was announced that a 13-member “working group” would take up the bill in the Senate. Weirdly, that group didn’t include a single female senator — optics Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scrambled to correct by insisting any senator who wanted to could be involved. But it seems that Republicans have still managed to more or less shut out their Democratic colleagues from shaping the health-care bill, as Senator Claire McCaskill made clear during a Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday.
After Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price testified before the committee about his department’s budget, McCaskill, who’s on the finance committee, asked chairman Orrin Hatch whether there would be any hearings on the GOP’s health care proposal.
Hatch didn’t seem to understand the question, so an aide rushed forward to whisper in his ear. He then said he didn’t know if there would be hearings, but that Democrats had had opportunities to “give your ideas.” McCaskill wasn’t having it. “That’s not true,” she told Hatch, adding that when the Affordable Care Act was proposed, hearings were held in which “dozens of Republican amendments were offered and accepted.” She went on:
When you say that you’re inviting us – and we heard you, Mr. Secretary, just say, ‘We’d love your support’ – for what? We don’t even know. We have no idea what’s being proposed. There’s a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making these decisions. There were no hearings in the House.
I mean, listen, this is hard to take. Because I know we made mistakes [when the ACA came together], Mr. Secretary. And one of the criticisms we got over and over again that the vote was partisan. Well you couldn’t have a more partisan exercise than what you’re engaged in right now. We’re not even going to have a hearing on a bill that impacts one-sixth of our economy. We’re not going to have an opportunity to offer a single amendment. It is all being done with an eye to try to get it by with 50 votes and the vice president.
The thing is, McCaskill is not even exaggerating. What’s more, while everyone was watching James Comey testify, Republicans made progress on their health-care bill, which McConnell is looking to fast-track.