Seven years ago, Republicans were complaining about Obamacare negotiations
The deal-making in darkness is by design, top GOP aides have told CNN
As Senate Republicans, largely outside public scrutiny, hash out details over their health care plan, Democrats are hammering them for what they say is a lack of transparency.
Seven years ago, Republicans were complaining about Obamacare negotiations – an imperfect comparison, considering Democrats held a number of bipartisan hearings and markups, a White House summit and President Barack Obama even addressed the GOP caucus – often tweeting their disgust at what they said was backroom deal-making.
The man at the helm of the current effort to reshape America’s health care system repeatedly criticized the process through which Obamacare was passed.
In 2010, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “Democrats on Capitol Hill are working behind the scenes on a plan aimed at jamming this massive health spending bill through Congress against the clear wishes of an unsuspecting public.”
Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, then representing Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, said Democrats were “sacrificing the trust of the American people.”
He also told CBS News in 2010: “The negotiations are obviously being done in secret and the American people really just want to know what they are trying to hide.”
Vice President Mike Pence, then an Indiana congressman, called the drafting of legislation affecting “100%” of Americans “simply wrong.”
Sen. Dean Heller – a top target for Democrats in 2018 – voiced his discontent, as well, saying he was “disappointed” by the lack of “sunlight into this process.”
Discussing the handling of legislative matters behind closed doors, Sen. John Cornyn, who is now the Majority Whip, said, “I think it’s a perilous – indeed, dangerous – way for us to do business.”
Then-House Speaker John Boehner gave an impassioned speech on the House floor during the debate, saying in part, “Look at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly? With transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people?”
His response: “Hell no, you can’t.”
He asked the House if they had read the bill.
His response: “Hell no, you haven’t.”
“If you rush this thing through before anybody even knows what it is, that’s not good democracy,” Boehner’s successor, Paul Ryan, said in 2009.
Linda McMahon, who leads the Trump administration’s US Small Business Administration, said in January 2010 that American health care was too “important” to be done behind closed doors.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican congressman from Florida, went even further at the time, demanding that all conference committee meetings should be public.
“Ramming through a partisan bill” is like “going to war with out asking Congress’s permission,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, told “Fox News Sunday” in 2009. “You might technically be able to do it, but you’d pay a terrible price in the next election.”
“(F)or Harry Reid yesterday to say, well, I’m going to ram it through no matter what, that makes me wonder if there’s an agenda behind this,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, told CNN in 2010.
In a 2010 opinion column, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, criticized Democrats’ use of reconciliation, a budget maneuver to pass a bill in the Senate using 51 votes instead of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. He spoke gravely about the effects of passing a health care bill through that process.
“The havoc wrought would threaten our system of checks and balances, corrode the legislative process, degrade our system of government and damage the prospects of bipartisanship,” Hatch said.
Now, Republicans are eyeing reconciliation to pass their health care bill.
Top GOP aides have told CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Lauren Fox that the deal-making in darkness is by design, so that GOP members can continue to give feedback to the drafters. They realize that once the bill’s draft goes public, they cede control of the narrative – and the bill’s language.
CNN’s John Berman asked Republican Sen. Mike Rounds Tuesday about whether there was some irony about Republicans drafting their health care bill behind closed doors.
“No question about it,” he said with a chuckle. “I think there is.”
Sen. John McCain went further Tuesday, agreeing with many Democrats that the secrecy encompassing the Republican plan is hypocritical. Asked by CNN’s Manu Raju if he was satisfied by the current process, McCain said no.
“We used to complain like hell when the Democrats ran the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “Now, we’re doing the same thing.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Pence served in Congress in 2010.
CNN’s Justin Lear, Grace Hauck, Terence Burlij, Manu Raju and Zachary Wolf contributed to this report.