(Bloomberg) — House Republicans thought they were writing a bill that they say will repeal and replace Obamacare. Instead, on Thursday, they found themselves running a traveling circus.
Following reports that a major chunk of their health care legislation was being held for House GOP review in a secret room somewhere in the Capitol complex, Democrats and Republicans who hadn’t been invited started the hunt. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, was first on the scene of the supposed secret location.
“It’s the secret office of the secret bill,” Paul told a gaggle of reporters. After being denied entry by a security guard and staff aide, he quickly turned the moment into an impromptu press conference about legislation transparency.
“I suspect public pressure will make them release it,” he said.
Except, as it turned out, the bill wasn’t there. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady was in the room, but the Texas Republican said the bill wasn’t.
The audience gathered outside — including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland — was skeptical, so in they went to inspect. Out they came about 30 seconds afterward.
“No bill here. We cannot find the bill,” Hoyer said.
One Republican lawmaker and a committee aide had said Wednesday that House Republicans would be allowed to review the overhaul plan, which would repeal or change major components of the Affordable Care Act — but only in a dedicated reading room, and they wouldn’t be given copies to take with them. Republican leaders are trying to avoid a repeat of what happened last time. When an outdated draft leaked last week, it was quickly panned by conservatives.
The sought-after draft bill is the part of the Republican health care effort being written by the Energy and Commerce Committee, with the Ways and Means panel putting together another chunk. Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon insisted in a statement that it was “false” to contend that the committee was “doing anything other than the regular process” of refining the bill to make it ready for committee debate.
‘The Wrong Room’
Energy and Commerce Committee Democrat Paul Tonko of New York said he had walked into the room minutes earlier, and staffers there said, “Sir?”
“I said, ‘Well, I’m looking to read the bill, is this where I read the bill?’” Tonko said. “They said, ’You have the wrong room.’”
“I said, ‘So, where is the room?’ They said, ’We don’t know that, sir.’”