At 9 am Thursday — the day Senate Republicans plan to release their health bill to the public — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told Independent Journal Review reporter Haley Byrd that she hadn’t seen the bill’s text yet.
“I am not a reporter, and I am not a lobbyist, so I’ve seen nothing,” Murkowski said.
It’s a striking comment from a senator who had supposedly been intimately involved in the negotiation process and holds a key vote in getting the Senate’s version of the American Health Care Act passed in Congress’s upper chamber.
Murkowski, however, is highlighting just how extremely closed Republican leadership’s process around the health bill has been. Negotiations started in a small working group of senators, but the drafting process was between top Republican staffers in Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s office and relevant committees. Even ranking Senate Republicans were left out of the process.
Any rumors about the contents of the bill have come through leaked news reports, stemming from, as Murkowski pointed out, lobbyists just off Capitol Hill.
As the Senate prepares to finally loop in the American public, already several news reports from outlets like the Washington Post and Politico have published what they’re hearing is in the bill. They are all sourced to lobbyists and aides.
“The idea, aides and lobbyists say, is to provide a softer landing for people at lower ends of the income spectrum than under the House bill,” Paige Winfield Cunningham wrote for the Washington Post in her piece.
This is not too different from what happened in the House just four months ago, when the majority of Republican Congress members first became acquainted with the original AHCA on the pages of Politico.
It’s a process that has infuriated many Republicans, who have decried the secret and speedy strategy their leadership has decided to take on with health care. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told Vox his game plan would have been “dramatically different.”
“We would be having debate on the floor, we would be having amendments, we would be having discussion,” McCain said, observing what has been an extraordinarily closed legislative process around health reform.
Whether or not these frustrations will prompt senators to withhold their votes until the bill goes through due process, however, remains to be seen. So far, it doesn’t seem likely.