McCaskill rips Hatch on ‘back room’ health care bill

Garance Franke-Ruta
Senior Politics Editor

WASHINGTON — While the nation was transfixed Thursday by the ongoing battle between former FBI director James Comey and President Trump, it was not the day’s only political sparring in the nation’s capital.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., blasted Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, during a hearing on Capitol Hill at which Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price testified.

“Will we have a hearing on the health care proposal?” McCaskill asked Hatch, concerned about Republican plans to fast-track the Senate’s version of the Obamacare repeal bill without Democratic involvement or public hearings. “Will we?”

“I think we’ve already had one,” Hatch replied.

“No, I mean on the proposal that you are planning to bring to the Senate floor for a vote? Will there be a hearing?” she pressed him again.

Hatch conferred with an aide. “Well, I don’t know that there’s going to be another hearing,” he said, “but we’ve invited you to participate.”

At that response, McCaskill unloaded.

“When you say that you’re inviting us — and I heard you, Mr. Secretary, you said you’d love our support. For what? We don’t even know,” she replied. “We have no idea what’s being proposed. There’s a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making these decisions. There were no hearings in the House. I mean, listen, this is hard to take.”

“You couldn’t have a more partisan exercise than what you’re engaged in right now. We’re not even going to have a hearing on a bill that impacts one-sixth of our economy. We’re not going to have an opportunity to offer a single amendment,” McCaskill continued. “It is all being done with an eye to try and get it by with 50 votes and the vice president.”

That wasn’t the case in 2010 for the Affordable Care Act, she said. “Even though the vote wound up being partisan, the amendment process wasn’t,” she said, noting that Republicans were able to offer amendments and contribute to a bill that they ultimately chose not to vote for. “I want that opportunity. Give me that opportunity. Give me an opportunity to work with you.”

McCaskill’s remarks come as Democratic activists are frantically trying to mobilize opposition to a Senate bill they have yet to see and the prospect that the upper chamber will follow the path of the House and vote to repeal Obamacare. A number of observers had predicted, in part based on statements from key GOP senators themselves, that the matter might not even come up for a vote this year, or else would be deliberated slowly.

But while public comments from senators signaled a lengthy process with little chance of success, behind the scenes the parliamentary machinery has been put in place by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to fast-track the health care bill for a vote by the end of June.

A Quinnipiac poll in late May and early June found that only 17 percent of those surveyed approve of the House bill, while 68 percent disapproved of it.

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