Descent Into Secrecy: Senate Health Talks Speak To Steady Retreat From Transparency
Congress struggling to finish a huge budget reconciliation bill. A GOP president pushing a major overhaul of federal payments for health insurance that could transform the lives of sick patients.
Sound familiar? The year was 1986. I was a rookie health reporter on Capitol Hill and watched a Medicare bill move from introduction, to hearings, to votes in subcommittees, to full committees and then to the entire House — an operation that took months and was replicated in the Senate, before the two chambers got together to iron out their differences for final passage. Everything was published in the official Congressional Record in almost excruciating detail for everyone to see — as long as they could read really tiny type.
Since then, in three decades of reporting, I’ve had a front-row seat to Congress’ slow, stuttering retreat from such step-by-step transparency, a process known as “regular order.”
It has now culminated in the Senate GOP leadership’s top-secret process to try to write a health bill that could change the formula for nearly one-fifth of the nation’s economy, with a vote they want to cast by July 4. In fact, a GOP Senate aide told the news site Axioson Monday that no details would be forthcoming until the bill is finished, adding, “We aren’t stupid.” That means bypassing the debate that traditionally went into lawmaking, in order to achieve consensus.
The extreme secrecy is a situation without precedent, at least in creating health law. Still, it’s not hard to see how we got here — and there is plenty of bipartisan blame to go around. [...]health care finance health care reform health law policy public health regulation