A week ago, Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson expressed displeasure at the secrecy that is shrouding the Senate’s health care bill. “I want to know exactly what’s in the Senate bill,” he told Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur. “I don’t know yet. It’s not a good process.” Asked about Johnson’s quote on Face the Nation on Sunday, Marco Rubio concurred, although he argued that secrecy isn’t so bad—as long as there’s time to debate the bill: “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—especially on an issue like this. The first step in this may be crafted among a small group of people, but then everyone’s going to get to weigh in. And it’s going to take—you know it’s going to take days and weeks to work through that in the Senate.”
These quotes broadly reflect the two ways Republican senators have responded to Mitch McConnell’s secret health care bill. The first is to throw up their hands and say, “Well, I don’t like the way this is being done either!” And the second is to suggest that, even though Republicans are secretly crafting a bill that will have dire consequences for millions of Americans, it’s not actually that bad.
The problem with both of these arguments, however, is that they’re bullshit. If senators really were concerned about the process, they have ways to push for something more open. “If these senators told McConnell that they genuinely want or need an improved process, that would put him in a meaningful bind,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote last week. “He’d have to prioritize the need to get the bill through over his members’ genuine needs or demands, precisely because the bill can’t survive too much public scrutiny, as it’s so toxic.”
Rubio’s claim that a real debate will happen down the road also rings hollow. On Sunday, Jonathan Swan reported that McConnell “is dead serious about forcing a Senate vote on the Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill before the July 4 holiday.” That timeline would not create the conditions for the kind of open debate Rubio is citing.
The whole point of an open process is that members of the public can respond to legislation that will have a profound impact on their lives. The process that McConnell and Republicans are using to write this bill is designed to prevent the public from having any impact on this legislation. If Republicans truly wanted an open process or meaningful debate, or merely cared about paying lip service to these concepts, we’d have both.