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Republicans Hide New Obamacare Draft Under Shroud of Secrecy

 

Billy House and Arit John

House Republican leaders have a new version of their major Obamacare repeal and replacement bill. They just don’t want you to see it.

The document is being treated a bit like a top-secret surveillance intercept. It is expected to be available to members and staffers on the House Energy and Commerce panel starting Thursday, but only in a dedicated reading room, one Republican lawmaker and a committee aide said. Nobody will be given copies to take with them.

The unusual secrecy is a reflection of the sensitivity — and the stakes — surrounding the GOP effort to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, a top priority of President Donald Trump, who has yet to offer his own plan.

Republican leaders are trying to avoid a repeat of what happened last time. When an outdated draft leaked last week, it was quickly panned by conservatives.

“Am I for Obamacare repeal? The answer is yes,” Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, head of a conservative wing known as the Freedom Caucus, said Tuesday. “Am I for this plan? The answer is no.” Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina, who chairs the 170-member Republican Study Committee, also said he couldn’t support the leaked draft and won’t recommend his colleagues do so, either.

Stalled Effort

Republicans members have stalled so far on their efforts to find a path forward, and Trump’s address Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress didn’t offer new details.

With this latest draft, leaders are taking additional steps to make sure it doesn’t leak prematurely, before some members have signed onto it.

“The draft of it is going to be available tomorrow for those of us on the health subcommittee to start poring through,” said Representative Chris Collins of New York, a Trump ally and member of the health subcommittee of Energy and Commerce. “Unfortunately for you, we’re making sure it won’t be leaked.”

“We’re not having a hearing or anything,” added Gus Bilirakis of Florida, another panel member. “But there’ll be a place for us to view it, the draft.”

On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the bill is being handled under normal legislative procedures.

“We’re not hatching some bill in a backroom and plopping it on the American people’s front door,” he said on NBC’s “Today” show.

No Score

Collins said the panel may try to mark up the bill next week, but it hasn’t been processed yet by the Congressional Budget Office, which will provide a “score” on its cost, as well as an estimate of how many people the plan will insure. That score is critical to the debate, because the GOP plan is expected to provide coverage for significantly fewer people than Obamacare.

“It looks like, unfortunately, based on the delays, we may be marking it up and voting on it before we have a score,” Collins said.

The committee has made no final decisions on timing for any markup, said a Republican committee aide who didn’t want to be identified.

Moving ahead without a CBO score could be a problem for some members, particularly conservatives, who are worried that leaders might end up replacing Obamacare with something of a similar cost.

But Republicans are eager to jump-start their stalled effort, pointing out that it still has to go through several steps before reaching the House floor.

“We can’t sit back and wait for these scores to come out for three more weeks before we start what’s a three-week process,” Collins said.

It’s unclear when Democrats on the panel, or the public, will get a look at the GOP bill.

The House Ways and Means Committee is working on another portion of the repeal plan, which will eventually be combined with the bill that comes out of the Energy and Commerce panel. Republicans had hoped to be further along with their Obamacare repeal effort, but insist they intend to move ahead in the coming weeks.

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