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U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) (L-R), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) depart following their weekly Republican caucus lunch meeting
Unpacked

Secret dealmaking and the GOP health care bill

Sarah A. Binder
Editor's Note:

"In Unpacked, Brookings experts provide analysis of Trump administration policies and news."

THE ISSUE: Though closed-door Congressional dealmaking is nothing new, the secretive process by which 13 Senate Republicans have been crafting a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is a bit unusual.

It appears that part of the Republican health care bill strategy is to rush this package through with very little public exposure to keep critics from attacking it.

THE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  • For the past several weeks, 13 Senate Republicans have been meeting behind closed doors to craft a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
  • Dealmaking behind closed doors in Congress is common, but this particular instance is a bit unusual.
  • Oftentimes, closed-door dealmaking happens at the end of the legislative process when the House or the Senate has passed a bill and they’ve run up against a deadline or can’t get the process to work.
  • Usually, the policy is too complicated or too contentious and they have to close the doors to hammer out a final agreement—for example, raising the debt ceiling right before the government could default.
  • Negotiations also go secret at the beginning of the legislative process on controversial policy matters— for example, immigration reform in the Senate in 2013.
  • In this instance, four Democrats and four Republicans—the “Gang of Eight”— closed the door for several months in order to hammer out a deal that gave Democrats what they wanted, gave Republicans what they wanted, and both sides gave up a little.
  • The “Gang of Eight” had to defend their package in committee, they had to defend it on the Senate floor, and it had to get 60 votes.
  • This was an episode where going behind closed doors generated a package that could be defended and amended in public.
  • Health care reform is complex and affects a sixth of the US economy and all of us, which is why there’s something unusual about this secretive Senate process.
  • Not only is the Senate crafting legislation in private, but they are also only working with 13 white, Republican males—no Democrats were invited. That’s unusual. That’s not looking for buy in across the Republican Conference or across the two political parties.
  • Republican leaders say any Republican can participate in the discussion, but so far, it appears they are not looking for buy in across the Republican conference or across the two political parties.
  • Finally, what’s most unusual is that there doesn’t seem to be any intention of going to committee, having a robust floor debate, or having experts come in to negotiate or offer their expertise.
  • The language of the bill, when it comes out, will be rushed to the floor with quick debate.
  • Politicians don’t like to vote for unpopular things, and by most metrics this looks like an unpopular legislative package.
  • It appears that part of the Republican strategy is to rush this package through with very little public exposure to keep critics from attacking it.
  • This could be an example of how Republicans deal with an unpopular bill.
  • Another possibility is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants health care off of his plate in order to move onto tax reform, a legislative agenda that is far more comfortable for Republicans.
  • According to technical rules and given the promises they’ve made to Republican voters, health care must be dealt with, and it’s likely they want to do it quickly and with as little exposure as possible.

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