Editorial: The secret show behind the circus

Thursday, June 15, 2017

For older viewers, seeing all those faces from the past – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, John Dean and alums from later years like Ken Starr – is a bit like a class reunion.

But the coverage of the firing of FBI director James Comey, the attempt to determine whether any Americans colluded with Russia in its attempt to subvert the presidential election and President Donald Trump’s tweets, as important as all those things may prove to be, are a distraction.

So, too, was the Senate interrogation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who did more ducking than a little kid in a big kid’s dodgeball game.

No, the main show is going on in secret, where a committee of 13 Republican senators – not one female member – are devising a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, which provides health insurance coverage for some 24 million Americans with low or modest incomes.

The panel, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is working behind closed doors in hopes of passing a bill that guts Obamacare quickly by bypassing as many hearings and as much public scrutiny as possible.

The panel is working in secret because the bill it produces will take health insurance away from millions of people and drive up premiums for millions more. Some of those people live in New Hampshire, where about 50,000 people gained coverage under Obamacare.

The president, who praised the draconian House health care bill a few months ago, recently called it “mean” and urged the Senate to open the purse strings a bit to keep from hurting so many people. But if Republicans were proud of their replacement bill they wouldn’t be hiding it. It promises only a lesser degree of pain than its House counterpart, a bit less cruelty in the only advanced country that doesn’t provide its citizenry universal health care.

New Hampshire’s senators, Democrats who would be hostile to a bill created by an all-male team that restricts the health care options of women, will no doubt oppose whatever emerges.

What about the state’s lone Republican in the national spotlight, Gov. Chris Sununu? Sununu recently went to Washington to advocate on behalf of more money for New Hampshire, since in his words, “the only thing the administration hears from them is all the negativity that our federal delegation pushes.”

The issues Sununu brought up – more money for after-school programs, first responder communications and the Small Business Administration – are important. But if the governor discussed the potential loss of insurance coverage for thousands of New Hampshire citizens and the impact cuts to Medicaid could have on the state’s ability to cope with the opioid epidemic and mental health system shortfalls, he didn’t mention it.

When the bill emerges newborn from the Senate panel and speeds toward a vote of the full Senate, the public, and even many members of Congress, will have little time to check for a forked tail before the vote. It’s a safe bet that no Democrat will vote for the bill, so it will take only a few Republican senators to foil McConnell’s scheme.

The calculated lack of transparency surrounding the bill should be enough, if any respect for process and integrity survives in Congress, to doom the bill no matter what its contents.