Obamacare rewrite needs light of day in U.S. Senate

From the Editorial Board

Eviscerating the U.S. health care system behind closed doors, with no public input or transparency and a headlong rush to get it done before the July 4 congressional break, has emerged as the modus operandi of Senate Republicans hellbent on ending Obamacare.

It is a plan that reflects their party’s worst instincts. Should it secure the 51 votes it needs, it will go over with the American people like an errant firework that burns down a house while the family inside sleeps.

Washington senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell joined fellow Democrats on the Senate floor Monday and Tuesday to protest the majority party’s clandestine rewrite of the American Health Care Act. Just last month, there was hope the Senate would use its more deliberative style to craft a modest reform bill, unlike what the GOP-controlled House rammed through on May 4 — a benefit-slashing juggernaut that even President Trump has now reportedly described as “mean.”

How unfortunate to see Senate Republican leaders borrow those bulldozing tactics, with no committee hearings and unreasonably short timelines. Majority leader Mitch McConnell says others will have every chance to read the bill and propose amendments before a final vote is taken. But because arcane Senate budget rules limit floor debate to 20 hours at the end, McConnell’s words ring hollow. (Senators spent 25 days on the floor debating the Affordable Care Act in 2010.)

Potentially at stake in Washington state are health care benefits for some 600,000 residents who gained coverage under the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. The AHCA that passed the House also would would weaken safeguards for people with pre-existing conditions, and cut federal subsidies that help cover the cost of private insurance for lower-income Washingtonians.

How much of that will be retained in the Senate rewrite? Your guess is as good as ours.

Like the white smoke released after the secret selection of a new pope, perhaps Senate leaders will discharge a volley of fireworks above the Capitol when they’re ready to share their plan.

(Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in Olympia play similar reindeer games over a two-year state budget, while the normal public process is circumvented during overtime. But that’s an editorial for another day.)

On Monday, Cantwell joined fellow Democrats in urging Republican leaders to bring their health care plan forward immediately.“Come out here and say what is it that you don't like about the patient-centered delivery system that's here and how you want to change it,” Cantwell said. “If you say your proposal increases access for Americans, let's hear it.”

Murray likewise issued a compelling plea for her GOP colleagues “to bring this process out from the shadows.”

“It’s not too late to abandon this plan to jam Trumpcare through Congress,” Washington’s senior senator said. “And if you do that, Democrats stand ready, as we always have, to work with you to actually make health care more affordable and accessible for patients and families across the country.”

Republicans should take the minority party up on its offer — or, some would say, call its bluff — and see if they can unite to fix some punitive aspects of Obamacare.

To spend months sounding a war cry to repeal and replace a system that millions have grown to rely on for life-saving aid, and then to hammer out the details on a short deadline in the dark, is wrongheaded. Even some Republicans, such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, have acknowledged that full hearings and open debate lead to credible legislation.

A new CBS News poll shows that 76 percent of respondents — including 81 percent of Republicans — don’t understand what the GOP bill would do.

Few will be happy if the painful truth is revealed in some kind of Fourth of July surprise.