- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Capitol Hill debate over health care shifted Thursday from what’s in an Obamacare repeal bill to how it’s being crafted, as Democrats and at least one Republican senator accused House Republicans of squirreling away the latest version of their plan because it falls short of party promises or amounts to “Obamacare lite.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, traversed the Capitol to hunt for the bill personally, citing reports it had been stowed away in a locked room so that Republicans on relevant committees could not peruse it.

“I will not settle, and I will not stand idly by, while the American people are kept in the dark,” said Mr. Paul, a leading critic of House GOP plans to offer refundable tax credits to people who buy health insurance on their own.

Democrats piled on, blasting Republican leaders as hypocrites after rapping the Affordable Care Act of 2010 as a backroom deal that was passed without anyone knowing what was in it.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer live-streamed his hide-and-seek-style effort to find the bill in Republican offices, though he came up empty.

Republican leaders chafed at the political theater, saying they were doing what Congress does — working within key committees to craft a plan before offering it for debate.

“Reports that the Energy and Commerce Committee is doing anything other than the regular process of keeping its members up to speed on latest developments in its jurisdictions are false,” said Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican and committee chairman. “We are continuing to work on drafting and refining legislative language to provide relief from a failing law.”

Republicans are trying to repeal and replace as much of the Affordable Care Act as they can under a fast-track budget process that allows them to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

Rank-and-file members who emerged from a closed-door meeting Thursday said they’ll try to send a finished product to the Senate this month so Republicans and President Trump can fulfill their campaign promise of repeal by the Easter break.

“We’re still planning on moving this as quick as we can,” said Rep. Chris Collins, New York Republican and staunch Trump ally. “It’s going to take three weeks.”

GOP lawmakers said Mr. Walden’s panel and the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee could begin marking up legislation next week, though leaders did not confirm dates.

Democrats intent on preserving Obamacare said their members should have time to digest the latest Republican effort, particularly if markups are imminent, arguing their own health law was vetted by nearly 200 witnesses and 100 hours of hearings.

“This is unheard of. Even the Republicans — the senator, Rand Paul — is criticizing this, that he can’t even see what their plan is,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was famously mocked by Republicans for saying Congress needed to pass President Barack Obama’s overhaul to see what was in it.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked Mr. Walden to post the bill for 30 days of public review before holding a markup — a request that would significantly slow down the GOP’s agenda for the early months of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

The House GOP’s health proposal would gradually unwind the Affordable Care Act’s vast expansion of Medicaid in 31 states and cap federal spending on the insurance entitlement for the poor, while replacing its income-based subsidies with refundable, age-based tax credits.

Mr. Paul has attacked the plan from the right, saying the current proposal creates a new tax entitlement and muddies the repeal effort Republicans promised voters. Two factions of House conservatives have echoed his concerns and threatened to withhold their votes, a move that would imperil an effort that is unlikely to obtain any Democratic support.

The conservatives say Congress should let people deduct the cost of health insurance they purchase on their own from their taxes rather than doling out refundable credits and taxing a portion of particularly generous employer-sponsored plans to pay for it.

“It is already bad enough that it appears House leadership wants us to settle for ‘Obamacare lite,’ but now we can’t even expect full transparency during the process,” Mr. Paul said.

Conservative outrage over the GOP plans stemmed from an early draft of the GOP plans, dated Feb. 10, that leaked a week ago, prompting widespread belief that Republican leaders were trying to avoid a repeat as they finalize their plans.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan continued to push back at the conservative revolt Thursday, saying members had the chance to offer their ideas last year before the House GOP released a consensus blueprint for the campaign.

“We told America: Here’s our vision for how we replace Obamacare after we repeal Obamacare,” said Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. “That’s the bill we’re working on right now. That’s the bill we’re working on with the Trump administration.”

“I am perfectly confident that when it’s all said and done, we’re going to unify,” he said. “Because we all, every Republican, ran on repealing and replacing, and we’re going to keep our promises.”

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