(Bloomberg) — One of the Senate Republicans charged with negotiating an Affordable Care Act change bill expressed frustration Tuesday with the secret process, saying that even he hasn’t seen the proposal set to be released in two days for a possible floor vote next week.
“I haven’t seen it yet, either,” said Sen. Mike Lee of Utah amid complaints by other Republicans that they don’t know what’s in the health care measure being drafted by their own party’s leaders.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to release a “discussion draft” Thursday and that it will go to the Senate floor for a vote “likely next week.”
A week or so to examine the bill isn’t enough, said Lee in a video posed on his Facebook page. As one of about a dozen members of a health care working group, he criticized the closely held process of drafting the measure.
“Even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill within this working group, it’s not being written by us,” Lee said. “It’s apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate. So if you’re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly.”
At least half a dozen Senate Republicans say they’re not sure they can support the measure.
“I’m very eager to see the language,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told reporters in Washington, adding that she’s concerned about the possibility of a vote on the Affordable Care Act change measure next week. “I don’t think it gives enough time to thoroughly analyze the bill, but we’ll see when it comes out.”
Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania also said they’re withholding judgment.
Arizona Republican John McCain, asked whether he’s seen the bill, said, “No, nor have I met any American that has. I’m sure the Russians have been able to hack in and gotten most of it.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (Photo: McCain)
Asked how the Senate measure would differ from the version passed last month by the House, McConnell said, “I wouldn’t want to compare it to the House bill. It’ll be different, take a different approach.”
“Everyone will have adequate time to take a look at it,” McConnell said, although the measure is being negotiated in private and won’t go through any committee hearings.
Republicans control the Senate 52-48 and plan to use an expedited procedure to pass a health plan with as few as 50 votes, plus a tie-breaker from Vice President Mike Pence. That would bypass the usual 60-vote threshold and keep Democrats from blocking the measure.
Democrats are angered about the secretive bill-writing process. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York complained that “no one in America” has seen the measure and that McConnell plans to allow only 10 hours of debate on it on the Senate floor.
The measure is the “textbook example of a mean bill,” Schumer said, referring to reports that President Donald Trump called the House GOP health care bill “mean.” The minority leader accused Republicans of “sabotaging” the current Affordable Care Act public exchange system.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters, “The president clearly wants a bill that has heart in it.” He added, “Any ideas are welcome to strengthen it.”
Other top Republicans — including Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah — have said they don’t know what’s in the bill either.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the key moderate holdouts, said leaders shouldn’t expect to be able to buy off her vote with an Alaska-specific solution.
“This is like a really big deal to get this right for the country,” Murkowski told reporters. “Let’s just say that they do something that’s so Alaska-specific just to quote, ‘get me.’ Then you have a nationwide system that doesn’t work. That then comes crashing down and Alaska’s not able to kind of keep it together on its own.”
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