WASHINGTON – Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) criticized both political parties for creating a trend in Washington that has seen transparency fall victim to centralization of power.
Though the Senate has been debating Republican proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act for weeks, Lee said during a town hall event on Wednesday that he had not yet seen the Senate’s latest healthcare bill; the latest version was unveiled by Senate GOP leaders Thursday. In June, Senate Democrats blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Republican leadership for crafting healthcare legislation behind closed doors in “secret meetings.” The criticism mirrored Republican claims against the Democratic Party in 2009-10 during the approval process for Obamacare.
“There is something of a pattern in Washington that has developed in recent years that has been followed by both political parties, and unfortunately has continued, where a whole lot of decision-making power has been delegated to a small handful of people,” Lee said, calling it a “matter of great frustration.”
Lee’s remarks came the day before Republican senators were set to meet with McConnell to discuss the latest version of the healthcare bill. A vote may come as early next week, but McConnell has hinted that if the measure fails Republicans are prepared to work with Democrats in crafting a bipartisan program, which would need 60 votes to advance instead of the 50 the GOP is currently seeking using budget reconciliation.
Lee during the town hall called Obamacare an “abysmal disaster,” in which the middle class has been burdened with subsidizing individuals in greater need of healthcare spending. Affordability was one of the promises from the Obama administration, Lee said, and skyrocketing premiums around the country are evidence of the program’s failure.
“Imagine if car insurance companies were required to charge everyone the same car insurance rate regardless of how likely they were to get into an accident,” Lee said, adding that drivers with clean records shouldn’t be required to pay the same high insurance premiums as individuals with blemished records.
Though he admitted health insurance and car insurance are two very different products, he argued that the U.S. should not be asking a healthy middle class to subsidize Medicare and Medicaid patients and those with pre-existing conditions.
“We want people to have the type of health insurance policy that they want. A willing customer should be able to connect with a willing an insurance company on a policy that makes sense to both, and the law ought not to stand in the way of that,” he said.
In criticizing the Republican healthcare package, Democrats have pointed to projections that more than 20 million people will lose insurance under the latest proposals. One caller during the town hall told Lee that it sounds like the U.S. is returning to the early 2000s, when Americans purchased healthcare “if they could afford it.” The caller said that her husband was sick during that period, but they couldn’t afford insurance. It turned out that he had colon cancer and eventually died. Everyone has the right to health insurance, she said.
“We don’t want people going without insurance,” Lee responded. “We don’t want people without healthcare. It’s one of the reasons why we want to make it affordable.”
Affordability, Lee said, will come if the U.S. restores competition, allowing access to both government and free-market healthcare options. He also said the U.S. needs to strike a better balance of federalism. House leadership from both parties last month launched the Speaker’s Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers tasked with addressing the issue. Republicans like Lee in recent years have campaigned on greater state discretion. States used to be regarded as laboratories for Republican democracy, he said.
“Instead they’ve become lab rats to be tested upon by the federal government,” he said. “They involuntarily have been thrust upon them policy decisions that no one state would perhaps make and then to have those policies administered by unelected bureaucrats from Washington, empowering the wealthy and well-connected, empowering big government but making the common man and woman in America less powerful and less wealthy as a result.”