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Ruth: Too much secrecy in Senate's health care talks

By Daniel Ruth, Times Columnist
Published: June 19, 2017
Associated Press
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a return to “regular order.” Instead, the health bill is being drafted in secret.

We should probably give some thought to recasting the U.S. Senate as the world's most secretive body, an institution that has grown so sunshine-averse it makes North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly look like the Brigadoon City Council.

Spoiler alert: If you are older, or poor and have one of those pre-existing conditions, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his gang of cat-stroking co-conspirators are about to reduce your health care options to a used Band-Aid and a mustard plaster poultice to treat tumors.

And it's all being cooked up behind closed doors.

It's worth remembering the American health care industry represents about one-sixth of the U.S. economy. Yet in an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which most Republicans view as a Trilateral Commission, United Nations, Commie-inspired plot to plunge the nation into socialism, the process to craft the dubiously titled American Health Care Act has been conducted entirely out of public view.

At the moment, a small cabal of Republican senators have been colluding in private to concoct a health care bill. No hearings. No expert testimony. No effort to solicit the views of Senate Democrats, or even other Republicans. And certainly no interest in having their version of a health care bill immediately scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to gauge the economic and life-changing impact of the AHCA on the lives of Americans.

Hypocrisy doesn't even begin to capture the absurdity of a select cohort of senators playing Russian roulette with the medical treatment of Americans.

Shortly after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, McConnell promised the American people and his colleagues that he intended to return the work of the Senate to "regular order," which seems like a rather dry term of legislative art.

But "regular order," at least in the real world, is supposed to mean the Senate would conduct its business like adults. Or as McConnell explained it to National Public Radio, "We need to get committees working again. We need to recommit to a rational, functioning appropriations process" and, "We need to open up the legislative process in a way that allows more amendments from both sides."

But that was in February, which is an eon ago in the lifespan of Washington integrity.

It is believed by the time McConnell and his gremlins finish their machinations, the end product will resemble the House bill, which was also mashed up in private, to take health insurance away from as many as 24 million Americans, greatly reduce coverage and impose a draconian hike in premiums that will have a particularly onerous, disproportional impact on older people. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a death panel after all. It's called Congress.

Perhaps that explains why one unnamed aide to a Republican senator serving on McConnell's covert "Let them eat aspirin" group to dismantle Obamacare defended the furtive scheme to avoid releasing any details on the bill by noting to the website Axios, "We aren't stupid." Really?

By what standard would anyone conclude it is a brilliant idea to threaten the health care of 24 million people without bothering to seek the input of economists, the medical profession, the insurance industry, hospital executives, medical device manufacturers, drug companies and patient advocate groups? Or the rest of the Senate? Or the CBO?

Contrary to popular misconception, for all its shortcomings, the Affordable Care Act was the product of a year of committee hearings and negotiations, and even some moderate Republicans offered amendments to the legislation.

There was a time, and you'll be forgiven if you don't remember, when the Senate was regarded as the greatest "deliberative body" in the civilized world. It was in the Senate chamber where issues such as the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the War Powers Act were robustly debated.

But that was too many McConnells ago. Too many.

Today the Senate hides and shirks and runs away from its traditions and its ethical responsibilities. It treats the citizenry as an inconvenience to be barely tolerated.

Somewhere, the Founding Fathers are weeping.