There is a giant scandal in Washington this week—and it’s not the one blaring from your television screen. Largely without media scrutiny, the United States Senate is quietly getting ready to pass its version of the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If it looks anything like the legislation the House passed last month—and by most accounts, it does—the bill could take away health-care coverage from millions (the House-passed American Health Care Act would take away health insurance from 23 million people in 10 years).
Senate Republicans’ stealth strategy here should come as no surprise: They learned from the House. After the Congressional Budget Office found that 24 million people would lose health care under the initial version of the AHCA bill, constituents responded by flooding House offices with phone calls. Paul Ryan and Republican leadership were forced to cancel a vote in mid-March, because public opposition to the bill made it impossible to secure the votes they needed. They then went back to their members and passed a new version, with no CBO score or media coverage, in order to mask the effects of the bill.
That handed Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell the playbook he needs to get his bill passed. The Senate companion to the House bill is being crafted under lock and key, foregoing committee hearings, markup, or any public debate. McConnell went so far as kicking all non-leadership staff out of secret discussions last month to prevent them from disclosing information about the bill to the public. Even rank-and-file GOP senators—who control the chamber and will likely be tasked with sending the legislation to the president’s desk—claim not to know what’s in it. According to Axios, the bill will not be released publicly even once it is complete. Instead, Mitch McConnell plans to send the completed text to the Congressional Budget Office for review, without any public scrutiny.
What’s shocking is not that the Senate is attempting to pass this bill under a shroud of secrecy; it’s that the strategy is working. As Vox’s Jeff Stein has been chronicling, most mainstream media outlets have either ignored the Senate health-care discussions or downplayed their urgency.
Scanning the front webpages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and CNN on Monday revealed no mentions of the health-care bill—and the same was true for much of last week. Even politics-focused outlets like Politico and The Hill have largely relegated their coverage of the health-care fight to specialized newsletters or paywalled content.