WASHINGTON — It was “find the Affordable Care Act replacement” day on Thursday as publicity-seeking Democrats — and one frustrated Republican — scampered through Capitol corridors, hunting for an elusive copy of a bill that Republican leaders have withheld from the public as they search for party unity.
Just a week before two powerful House committees plan to vote on the measure, opponents spent hours making the point that almost no one has actually seen legislation that would affect the lives and pocketbooks of millions of Americans.
“The Republicans have played hide-and-seek with us,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said party leaders were determined to plow ahead with repeal legislation, despite lingering disagreements among Republicans and outright opposition from Democrats.
“I am perfectly confident that when it’s all said and done, we’re going to unify, because we all, every Republican, ran on repealing and replacing and we’re going to keep our promises,” Ryan said.
The Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid, and the Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for tax legislation, are tentatively scheduled to vote next week on the repeal bill, setting the stage for the full House to vote on it later this month, House Republican leaders said.
While Republicans discussed details of the health care bill, Democrats went from office to office, hunting for a copy. Lawmakers were told that Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee could inspect the bill Thursday in the basement of a House office building. When Democrats arrived, they were directed to a room on the first floor of the Capitol.
The House Democratic whip, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, and Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., went to that room but could not find the bill there.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has criticized the repeal bill, also tried and failed to see it.
“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 said on Twitter as he set off in search of the document, carrying a portable copy machine and trailed by television cameras and journalists.
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.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 2, 2017
Paul supports repealing the Affordable Care Act but said the measure described publicly by House Republican leaders included “Democratic ideas dressed up in Republican clothing.”
Hoyer, whose quest for the bill was broadcast live on Facebook, paused to address a large bust of Abraham Lincoln. “I can’t find the bill,” he said, adding, “I know, Mr. Lincoln, you are as upset with your party as I am today.”
I’m looking for the House GOP’s secret ACA repeal bill since they are hiding it from Members and the public
Posted by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Thursday, March 2, 2017
The theatrics reflected serious concerns. “Republicans are hiding their draft ACA repeal bill in a basement room,” said the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California. The bill, she said, would produce “a big transfer of wealth to the wealthiest people in our country,” cutting their taxes while increasing costs for others.
It is not unusual for controversial bills to be written by the majority party, with little or no input from the minority. But Democrats relished the opportunity to turn the tables on Republicans.
In 2009 and 2010, Republicans excoriated Democrats for making “backroom deals” to pass the Affordable Care Act. Democrats, defending the bill they had written with President Barack Obama, were shouted down at town hall-style meetings by Tea Party members chanting, “Read the bill.”
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, denied he was hiding the bill or doing anything out of the ordinary. Republicans, he said, “are continuing to discuss and refine draft legislative language.”
Asked if he was hiding the bill, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said: “We don’t have a bill. We’re continuing to work with the Congressional Budget Office and our members on the final product.”
Republicans had promised an open process. Speaking on the House floor on Jan. 13, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the health law had been enacted “after months of backroom deals, in the middle of the night, last-minute deals, and without giving the American people enough time to even read the bill.”
“That is not what is going to happen this time,” he said.
The Congressional Budget Office has not completed an estimate of the cost of the repeal bill or its effects on coverage, and Republicans are still trying to narrow their differences on issues like Medicaid and tax credits to help people buy insurance. But, as of Thursday, they were determined to move ahead.
“We are going to mark up the legislation next week,” said Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. “They say we’ll be there all night. I’m going to bring an air mattress.”
Ryan presented members of his party on Thursday with a timeline leading to passage of the bill by the House within three weeks. The Senate is working closely with House leaders.
Ryan told House Republicans that President Donald Trump supported the bill drafted by House Republican leaders, according to aides who were in the room.
Ever since Obama signed the law in March 2010, Republicans have been trying to uproot it. When Congress convened this year, Republicans thought they could achieve their goal with a quick strike on the law, which has provided insurance to some 20 million Americans. The task has proved more difficult than they expected. Polls show the law has become somewhat more popular as Trump and congressional Republicans try to kill it.
Under a draft of the bill that became public last week, the government would offer tax credits to help lower the cost of insurance for people who did not have access to coverage through an employer or a government program. The tax credits, as initially proposed, would be available to people regardless of their income.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said the credit should not be available to people with incomes above a certain level, around $118,000. “I don’t think I need a tax credit, with my salary,” Roe said. As a member of Congress, he has been paid $174,000 a year.