The GOP’s latest effort to overhaul the nation’s health care system seems to be dead on arrival at the Capitol, but Republican leaders seem committed to performing open-heart surgery on its cadaver anyway – with protesters storming the grounds to ensure the proposal stays in the grave.
For months, GOP congressional leaders have faced withering criticism from all sides for crafting their various health proposals in secretive, Republican-only meetings. In a last-ditch attempt to garner the minimum 50 votes needed to pass the bill out of the Senate, Republican leaders on Monday held a hearing on the proposal, which would block grant much of Obamacare and put states in charge of the nation’s insurance policies.
Democrats and protesters alike viewed the hastily called hearing on such a sweeping proposal as a theatrical sham.
As Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch gaveled the hearing to order, he was immediately shouted down by a throng of protesters adorned in red. “No cuts to Medicaid – save our liberty!” they chanted for nearly 15 minutes.
An exacerbated Hatch got up and waited in his anteroom for the chants to subside as Capitol Police officers dragged protesters in wheelchairs into the hall.
“Let’s have some order,” Hatch said after the protesters were removed, but loud chants kept pouring into the room as hundreds of other protesters continued to voice their dissent.
“The purpose of a hearing is to respectfully discuss…” Hatch continued before getting cut off by the protesters yet again.
“As I said,” he continued when the voices died down a tad, “the purpose of a hearing is to respectfully discuss ideas and become better informed on particular issues. It does not mean that everyone shares the same views and opinions.”
With one wheelchair still left unoccupied in the back of the chamber, the hearing got under way without allowing more members of the public into the supposedly public hearing. While there were four tables of reporters in the room and dozens of congressional aides in back of the senators on the dais, for the remainder of the hearing there were only four members of the public present, including one woman in a red protest t-shirt and three men who looked to be lobbyists – a ratio unheard of for open congressional hearings on something as sweeping and expansive as health care.
Another aspect of the hearing that was highly unusual: Three of the eight witnesses were the very senators who wrote the bill behind closed doors, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy and former Sen. Rick Santorum.
“I see the hysteria that’s developed around this bill, and it’s disturbing,” Santorum told the panel of his former colleagues. “It is irrational and isn’t supported by any of the facts or evidence.”
But critics complain their GOP counterparts are light on facts and evidence. And the bill keeps changing, with Democrats on the committee receiving their fifth version of the legislation at 9:23 a.m. Monday morning; they were given three separate versions of the bill since 8 p.m. Sunday evening alone.
“Is this bill the one that the United States Senate is going to actually be voting on?” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the committee, asked Sen. Cassidy. “Because I think the American people would like to know – we are on the cusp, we are on the eve of voting on this extraordinary piece of legislation.”
“Yeah,” Cassidy replied. “I believe so – there might be a drafting error. I hope correction of a drafting error doesn’t constitute a whole ‘nother version, it’s just the correction of a drafting error.”
But after Republican Sen. John McCain announced his opposition to the process – and thus the bill – on Friday, Republicans have been scrambling to shore up other votes by providing more money to Alaska, Arizona and Kentucky – three states with senators on the record being either opposed to the bill or still on the fence about it.
“So much for principle – it’s all about buying votes,” California Democrat Diane Feinstein tells Rolling Stone.
Because of Senate budget rules, this is the last week Republicans can pass the bill without needing any Democratic votes, which is why GOP leaders are ramping up their intense lobbying efforts. That’s leaving Democrats frustrated.
“This is the most radical change to our health care system – more radical even than Obamacare was – and to put this slapdash hearing together without appropriate review … is the height of irresponsibility,” Virginia Democrat Mark Warner tells Rolling Stone.
The legislation is also opposed by a large range of medical groups, including doctors, hospitals and insurance companies – none of whom were represented at the sole hearing on the bill.
“The audacity of a group of Republican senators saying they know more than everyone in the health care community is outrageous,” Warner, a member of the committee, continues. “If this was a good idea, it would be a good idea three or four months from now, after it had been thoroughly reviewed. I think this is an awful idea, an awful approach that would devastate our health care system, and that’s why they’re trying to rush it through, because it’s all about a political victory. It’s not about fixing health care.”