By Emma Talkoff
June 21, 2017

Republican lawmakers weren’t just opposed to the Affordable Care Act in 2009, they were upset about the way they said it was being passed: too quickly, without enough transparency and on party lines.

Now they’re facing those same criticisms of their bill, even from some Republicans.

“We used to complain like hell when the Democrats ran the Affordable Care Act,” McCain said. “Now, we’re doing the same thing.”

The legislative process that led to the passage of the Affordable Care Act was not exactly the way that Republicans described it, even at the time. The bill went through hundreds of hearings and markups that lasted days or even months. Democrats voted on Republican changes to the bill and sought unsuccessfully to bring some members of the GOP on to support it.

By contrast, the process being used in the Senate so far on the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act has been mostly behind closed doors, while the timeline for a vote on it is much shorter than normal for a bill this major. In fact, the former Senate historian said that the last time a bill this significant was handled this way was before World War I.

Here’s a closer look at what some Republican lawmakers said about Affordable Care Act at the time, and how those concerns stack up in the current healthcare debate.

Transparency

The complaints: In 2009, many Republicans decried the secrecy with which they said health care legislation was being drafted. “Congress and the White House have focused their public efforts on platitudes and press conferences, while the substance and the details have remained behind closed doors,” wrote Paul Ryan, then ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, in a 2009 op-ed.

Republican Sens. Rob Portman and Lisa Murkowski decried “backroom deals” and said that the legislation had been “assembled behind closed doors” while Sen. John Cornyn tweeted in December, “So no one except 10 Democrat Senators have seen the ‘compromise.’…Wonder when the rest of America will see it?”

Tom Price, then a Congressman for Georgia and now Health and Human Services Secretary, tweeted, “With Democrats discussing health care in secret, they’re sacrificing the trust of the American people.” (As Sen. Patty Murray noted Monday night, Tom Price said at a hearing last week that he was among Republicans who had not yet seen the text of the current proposed bill).

The facts: At Monday night’s Senate protest, one of the most frequently cited issues among Democratic lawmakers was the secrecy with which they say the American Health Care Act is being crafted. The Senate health care plan has been created largely in secret by a group of 13 Republican lawmakers, who have not yet shared details of the plan with the public or the wider Senate. Calls for public hearings on the bill by Senate Democrats have not been granted so far.

In contrast, Democrats have been quick to point out, the Affordable Care Act bill was subject to 47 public hearings and roundtable before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and another 53 before the Senate Finance Committee.

Timing

The complaints: Another major process complaint in 2009 was the speed with which Republicans said the Affordable Care Act was being crafted and debated. Portman accused Democratic leadership of “trying to rush [their proposals] through Congress,” while Sen. Mitch McConnell said “Fast-tracking a major overhaul…does a disservice to the American people,” in a 2009 statement.

Republican lawmakers complained that there would not be adequate time to examine the bill before it went up for vote, calling for a “cooling off period” during which the bill could be reviewed and examined. “It is imperative we have the 72-hour process,” said then-Rep. Dean Heller. Murkowski worried that “we ran this bill down the fast track” because “ Senators will have barely 36 hours to review” the text before moving to a vote.

The facts: Prior to a vote, the Affordable Care Act underwent a monthlong marking up in the bipartisan HELP Committee before being brought to the floor for a vote. There, it was debated for 25 days—one of the longest periods of bill debate the Senate has ever seen.

Senate Republicans are hoping to vote on the law’s replacement before they take their July 4 recess, but Democrats and Republicans outside of the 13-member committee have yet to see it. That means there will be a narrow window—possibly as little as a day—between when the text of the bill is released and when the vote is called.

Partisanship

The complaints: Another resounding rebuke of the Affordable Care Act came from Republican lawmakers who said that the bill was too partisan—it eventually passed without a single Republican vote from the House or the Senate. Portman criticized the “bitterly partisan” legislation, while a number of Republican lawmakers said that their ideas had not been taken into account.

“A lot of good Republican ideas were left on the cutting room floor in the rush to pass ‘Obamacare,’” Murkowski wrote in a press release. Sen. Susan Collins agreed, lamenting that “there is so much we could have done in a bipartisan way to expand universal access to health care.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch had perhaps the most ringing indictment of partisanship in the bill: “If you can’t get 75 to 80 votes on something that is this important for this much reform, we should start over and do it on a step-by-step basis.’”

The facts: While the Affordable Care Act was indeed divisive, inspiring months of sharp rhetoric and dividing Congress, it did take at least some minority proposals into account. The bipartisan HELP Committee approved more than 100 Republican amendments to the bill (though some Republicans said those amendments were mostly minor).

As yet, no Senate Democrats have had the opportunity to review or contribute to the current bill, and many publicly objected to both its presumed contents and the manner in which the bill is being crafted during Monday’s late-night session. In February, McConnell said that the health care bill would likely be a “Republicans-only exercise.”

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