Columns

Senate Dems Invoke Rule to Limit Committee Hearings in Protest of GOP-Only Healthcare Work

WASHINGTON — After holding the floor overnight to protest Republicans working on the healthcare bill without input from the other party, Senate Democrats are invoking the two-hour rule that would prevent committee hearings from running past noon.

Republicans have previously invoked the rather obscure rule before to protest Obama administration nominations, including Tom Perez as Labor secretary and John Koskinen as IRS commissioner.

“As we’ve made clear to our Republican colleagues, if they continue to insist on ramming through a secret healthcare bill without any public input or debate, they shouldn’t expect business as usual in the Senate,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Before passing a massive bill that will affect the lives of every single American, there ought to be a rigorous and robust debate in committees and a full debate on the floor.”

Dems are pointing to the number of meetings during the Obamacare drafting stages that included Republicans, including nearly 100 hearings, roundtables and walkthroughs combined in the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committees. The Senate spent some 160 hours weighing Obamacare back then.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued on the Senate floor today that “we’ve been debating Obamacare’s failures and what to do about them for so many years now” it’s time to act quickly.

“I regret that Democrats announced early on that they did not want to be part of a serious bipartisan process to move past the failures of Obamacare. Their Obamacare law is collapsing all around us. It’s hurting Americans,” McConnell said. “It will continue to hurt even more if we allow the unsustainable status quo to continue. So we have a responsibility to act, and Senate Republicans are — working together, guided by the principles I mentioned, and acting on behalf of the Americans who deserve better than the status quo, better than the continuing pain of Obamacare.”

Republicans are working mindful of McConnell’s goal of holding a vote before the July 4 recess, cognizant of President Trump’s evolving feelings on the House version of the healthcare bill, which he reportedly called “mean” in a meeting with Senate Republicans this month. Trump also reportedly told a meeting of CEOs on Monday that the Senate bill needs “more heart.” There have been no drafts released or Congressional Budget Office scoring done yet.

Schumer protested the process, including not being guaranteed more than 10 hours of debate, in a floor speech this morning. “There’s only one possible reason why my friends on the other side are going along with this process, only one reason: they are ashamed of the bill they’re writing. If they were proud of the bill they would announce it. They would have brass bands going down Main Street America saying ‘look at our bill.’ They can’t even whisper what it’s about they are so, so ashamed of it. That’s why they’re hiding it,” he said.

Dems have also seized on the “mean” characterization of the healthcare reform.

“Cutting Medicaid to the bone is mean. Cutting treatment for opioid abuse is mean. Cutting support for families with someone in a nursing home is mean. Allowing insurers to once again discriminate against Americans with preexisting conditions is mean. Charging older Americans five times or more for their health insurance is mean,” Schumer said. “Passing a law that would cause millions of Americans to lose their health insurance in order to give a tax break to the wealthiest among us is pretty much the textbook definition of a mean bill, a mean bill. Even the president thinks so.”

Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that Republicans “continue to make progress on legislation to clean up the mess left by the meltdown of Obamacare” and Dems want to have “a single-payer option that puts our country even more in debt and we know doesn’t work.”

“What is the response of our Democratic friends? We’re told that they may obstruct the Senate’s other business, including committee work,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor. “On Thursday, for example, we also have a Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled to consider a critically important bill I have introduced with my colleague from Minnesota, Senator Klobuchar, to help fight human trafficking.”

“Will the Democratic leader from New York jeopardize the committee’s ability to actually consider and pass this law? Does he plan to block a member of his own political party from advancing her bill to fight human trafficking as well?”

Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told MSNBC this morning that his party is focused on the “magic number.”

“Three Republican Senators can stop what looks like an effort to push through and steamroll a bill that could change health care all across America, a bill that literally has not been read or seen by the members of the United States Senate. If three Republican Senators stand up and say this is the wrong way to pass legislation, it should be done on a more open basis as we did with the passage of the Affordable Care Act then we can stop it,” Durbin said.

He cited recent comments from Senate GOPs who objected to fast-tracking the process. “I want to know exactly what’s in the Senate bill. It’s not a good process,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told CBS on Sunday that the Senate “is not a place where you can just cook up something behind closed doors and rush it for a vote on the floor.”

“No one on the Democratic side knows anything about the substance of this bill,” Durbin said. “All we know is that it’s being pushed through without hearing, without even being read, without being scored. At the very last minute it’s a take-it-or-leave-it on a process called reconciliation.”