No Senate Democrats have been allowed to participate in any way in the drafting of a major health-care reform bill taking place somewhere in the bowels of the Capitol. They have even been kept in total darkness about what the plan might look like, which represents a major break in how the Senate has operated.
But what really pushes the process into absurdity is the fact that most Republicans have no idea either. Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said this week that he hasn't been allowed to see a draft copy. Neither he nor his staff have been given access to any of the bill's language, even though they would have to implement it.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and former chair of the Senate Health and Human Services committee, says he doesn't know what's in the bill either. “Well, join the crowd," he said when a reporter noted that no one had seen the bill. "I’m in the same category.”
“I’ve said from Day 1, and I’ll say it again,” complained Sen Bob Corker of Tennessee, another prominent Republican. “The process is better if you do it in public, and that people get buy-in along the way and understand what’s going on. Obviously, that’s not the route that is being taken.”
"If you get a copy of it, will you send me a copy?" Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asked a reporter from NBC.
Under the arrangement established by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the bill is scheduled to be introduced sometime in the next two weeks and will go straight to the Senate floor for a vote, with no committee hearings, no testimony about its impact, no chance for outside groups and experts to weigh in on its impacts, and no possibility of amendments. There may be a day or at most two of debate before the final vote.
Not surprisingly, that has Democrats more than a little furious:
McCaskill is of course correct. Conservative mythology holds that Obamacare was rammed through Congress without an opportunity for open debate. Like much conservative mythology, it has no basis in fact. Under Democratic leadership, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee spent 13 days publicly debating and voting upon aspects of the bill. The Senate Finance Committee devoted another eight days of public debate and votes, considering well over 100 proposed amendments and holding almost 80 roll-call votes on proposed changes.
It then went to the Senate floor, where it was debated for 25 days and passed seven months after its introduction. These timetables are not claims open for refutation; they are facts contained and documented in the Congressional Record.
You cannot make good policy this way, but McConnell has never been about good policy-making. This is about hiding a bill for as long as possible, even from his own Republican caucus, because he knows it cannot withstand sustained scrutiny and will become increasingly unpopular with each passing day in the spotlight.
And that's what's so mind-boggling about it all: It's bad policy, but as political strategy it's even worse.
It ain't about policy.