What's the big secret, guys?
Republican leaders of the House of Representatives were under fire Thursday for hiding their Obamacare replacement proposal "under lock and key" in a basement in Congress.
Irritated by the secrecy, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and others called on the GOP to expose the bill to the public, so that it could be analyzed.
Paul and other members of Congress then went on a hunt to try, unsuccessfully, to actually look at the bill.
The bizarre security measures for the bill, which came to light Wednesday night, underscore how politically risky repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has come to be seen in the past month by GOP leaders.
The leadership has been buffeted on one side by members of the public who are afraid of losing health-care coverage — and who have angrily voiced those fears at recent congressional town halls — and on the other side by conservative members of the GOP caucus who want a wholesale repeal of the ACA or a less liberal replacement plan.
"I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock & key, in a secure location & not available for me or the public to view," Paul tweeted Thursday morning.
"This is unacceptable. This is the biggest issue before Congress and the American people right now," tweeted Paul, who has pushed for his own replacement proposal.
Paul later tweeted: "I am heading to the secure location where they are keeping the House obamacare bill. I will demand a copy for the American people."
But those efforts were rebuffed, even after Paul toted along a photocopier to make his own copy of the legislation:
As you know with laws it's very detailed, and sometimes they don't tell you about the worst parts of the law -- you've got to read the law," Paul told reporters afterward. "I'm not waiting until after it passes to find out what's in Obamacare, the new replacement bill."
"This is being presented as if this were a national secret. As if this were a plot to invade another country. As if this were a national security. That's wrong. This should be done openly, in the public and conservatives who have objections who don't want Obamacare lite should be allowed to see the bill."
Another member of Congress, House minority whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Facebook live-streamed himself walking around the halls of the Capitol trying to locate the bill.
Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the bill was expected to be made available to members and staffers of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday in a dedicated reading room, and that they will not be able to take copies of the bill out of that room.
Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., was quoted by Bloomberg as saying votes on the bill could occur before it is "scored" by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimates the expected costs and revenues generated by legislation.
Andy Slavitt, who oversaw Obamacare during the administration of President Barack Obama, said the secrecy measures are just the latest in a series of steps by Republicans to avoid actually debating a replacement bill in public.
"First it's repeal and delay; now it's repeal and hide," said Slavitt, who served as acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
"I'm waiting to talk to someone proud of the replacement bill."
Pelosi called the secrecy surrounding the bill "unheard of."
"They're hiding their bill in the basement," Pelosi said. "The Republicans are too terrified of their constituents to make their plan to destroy the Affordable Care Act public."
Pelosi contrasted the Republicans' secrecy with the history of the passage of the ACA, which included the Senate Finance Committee spending eight days publicly "marking up a bill," and "scores of hearings" and "hundreds of amendments."
She also said, without having seen the bill, that the proposal goes in the "reverse direction" from what should be a goal of lowering health costs, expanding health benefits and increasing access to health care.
Pelosi also said the bill would result in a "big transfer of wealth to the wealthy in our country" by repealing taxes related to the ACA.
Leslie Dach, director of the Obamacare-defense group Protect Our Care Campaign, also blasted GOP leaders.
"Behind locked doors and under a cloud of darkness, Republicans in Congress are planning to sneak through a plan that repeals health care — meaning less coverage, fewer protections and higher costs," Dach said.
"Just like they tried to avoid listening to the fears of people throughout the country during the recess, now they're trying to take health care away in secret. The fact that Republicans don't want the public to know their plans tells you how bad it really is," Dach said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan later Thursday morning said the House, Senate and Trump administration are "in sync" with their plans to repeal and replace the ACA.
Ryan also said that much of the bill being worked on is modeled off prior legislation proposed by former Rep. Tom Price, now the secretary of Health and Human Services.
"This is the bill we ran on in 2016," . "We've been running on repealing and replacing Obamacare since 2010."
"That is the bill , the plan we ran on in 2016," Ryan said at a news conference. "We told America here is our vision for how we replace Obamacare after we repeal it. That's the bill that we are working on with the Trump administration."
"We are all working off the same piece of paper, the same plan. So we are in sync."
"The law is collapsing, and you can't just repeal it," Ryan said. "You have to replace it with a system that actually works."
Ryan, at the end of the briefing, was walking away from the lectern where he had been speaking, and didn't return to answer, when a reporter called out, "Why is the plan under lock and key?"
Price introduced his Empowering Patients First Act while a congressman representing Georgia in 2015.
His bill proposed giving every person who buys individual health insurance plans a universal tax credit, that would be adjusted by age, with older people getting more than younger people. The credits would be worth between $900 and $3,000.
Price also called for eliminating the Obamacare mandate requiring most Americans to have some form of health coverage or face a tax penalty, implement state-run high-risk pools with federal grants for people with existing health conditions, allow insurance sales across state lines, and encourage health savings accounts.
Price's bill also would repeal the expansion of Medicaid to nearly all poor adults in states that agreed to do so. Medicaid has been credited with extending health coverage to the majority of the 20 million Americans estimated to have become insured as a result of Obamacare.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, in a statement said, "Reports that the Energy and Commerce Committee is doing anything other than the regular process of keeping its members up to speed on latest developments in its jurisdictions are false."
"We are continuing to work on drafting and refining legislative language to provide relief from a failing law," Walden said. "Part of that process is giving committee members and staff the opportunity to work closely together to draft a bill that reflects the concerns of our constituents and reflects our mandate from voters to repeal and replace Obamacare."
"Simply put, Energy and Commerce majority members and staff are continuing to discuss and refine draft legislative language on issues under our committee's jurisdiction."