Where's the health care bill?
As you read this, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and officials of the Obama administration are in a room at the Capitol rewriting health care policy. The American people aren't invited. Only a few lobbyists, Obama czars and liberal Senators have even been allowed to see this bill.
The Senate is keeping this bill a secret because politicians were shaken by the August town hall meetings and the rage expressed by the American people toward the president's version of health care reform. So, to minimize complaints now, the administration and Sen. Reid are making sure citizens are shut out of the process.
This isn't the way your ninth-grade civics teacher taught you a bill becomes law. Liberals in Washington should remember that participatory democracy doesn't end on Election Day.
The Senate is using a non-transparent and rare -- if not unique -- process to pass Obamacare. After weeks of markups and partisan bickering over the summer, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a bill. It was originally drafted by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. The measure is, predictably, liberal. The proper next step would have been to bring that bill to the floor for a public debate.
Meanwhile, in the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus (MT) organized a bipartisan group to negotiate on health care reform. The group included Democrats Baucus, Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), along with Republicans Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.). They met for weeks, yet couldn't agree on a bill.
Baucus then scheduled a markup of an outline of his version of health care reform. Many call it a "Vapor Bill," because it's only a description of legislation. No member of the committee has seen actual legislation, just a 262-page description. That Vapor Bill never will be voted on in the Senate, so many detractors are calling this a "make believe markup." It's to fool people into thinking the Senate is actually crafting a bill.
The legislative process has completely broken down. What should happen is that one committee would pass a bill and another committee would pass another bill, then the full Senate would merge the two bills in public with votes and debate. Instead, Reid says he -- not the Senate -- will merge the bills from the HELP and Finance Committees.
I have called around Capitol Hill to find out who has a copy of the bill and none of my high-level contacts know. Top staffers have no idea what's in the secret bill. They also have no idea where the bill is. All we know for sure is the bill isn't online for the American people to review.
Nobody can say if the bill will contain controversial items including mandatory abortion coverage in health care plans, covering illegal immigrants, the creation of a public plan and mandates on individuals and/or corporations to have insurance. Only an elite group of liberal politicians knows what's in the bill.
One senior Senate staffer told Human Events magazine that the administration has been in a room Leader Reid's office in the Capitol working on the final version of Obamacare. My source said, "Peter Orszag has been in Reid's office for the last two weeks." Orzag is the former Director of the Congressional Budget Office and is now Obama's head of the Office of Management and Budget.
Another senior Senate staffer tells Human Events that he believes, "the bill is in a computer deep inside the Capitol office of Harry Reid. I'll bet they have secretly sent major components to CBO already. I would be surprised if anyone outside the White House staff, Reid and Pelosi staff, and maybe a czar or two, are involved in writing the bill. I estimate 90 percent of the bill has been written. It will probably be thrown up on a Web site late next week in an unsearchable pdf format with handwritten notations, even though it was written months ago."
The American people should demand to see the bill and request that Congress start this whole process over.
Lawmakers must always use transparent procedures that involve the American people at every phase of the debate. That's especially true when they're rewriting laws that govern the delivery of health care. Continued secrecy would be an insult to our founding fathers and our American style of government.
Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate relations at The Heritage Foundation.