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The Regular Order Revue on House GOP Obamacare Bill

Signs from Republicans indicate deviation from transparency promises

Vice President Mike Pence conducts a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday. Also appearing are, from left, Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, John Barrasso of Wyoming, John Thune of South Dakota, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence conducts a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday. Also appearing are, from left, Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, John Barrasso of Wyoming, John Thune of South Dakota, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)


Republican lawmakers scrambled on Tuesday to explain their health care plan and how they will move it quickly through Congress, but Democrats and even some GOP members accused leaders of rushing through the process and jeopardizing Republican promises to move through regular order.

Lawmakers have one month before they are scheduled to leave for recess on April 7, and GOP leaders hope to pass legislation undoing the 2010 health care law before Congress heads out of town. House committees are marking up the legislation this week, though it’s not clear whether the bill will go through Senate committees or go straight to the Senate floor.

Members are processing details of the House package unveiled Monday night, but some were clamoring for the bill to go through regular order, particularly over concerns about moving forward before the Congressional Budget Office releases a cost estimate.

“We’ll be looking at the whole proposal here as it moves through the regular order in the House,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday when asked how the plan will be paid for. “We’ll have ample time to answer all the questions.”

The GOP chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees on Tuesday defended their decision to have their panels mark up legislation less than two days after releasing the bill text and without a cost estimate.

“The bill went online live for the entire American people, all of you, all of us to read, all of our colleagues to read at 6 o’clock last night,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden said Tuesday. “It’s … not that much to get through. It’s pretty well-understood.”

The Energy and Commerce portion of the bill is 66 pages long and the Ways and Means portion is 57 pages. The panels scheduled separate markups for 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Walden said the timing is in compliance with committee rules to post legislation at least three days before a markup. Like with broader House rules, the committee counts days by their sequence on the calendar, not as full 24-hour spans. In addition, many legislators understand regular order to mean a hearing before a markup occurs.

Walden said Tuesday he’s not sure when the CBO will release its report.

Going to markup before that, the Oregon Republican said, “is keeping in practice with reconciliation legislation.”

He added, “That’s pretty much how it operates. We’ll proceed with our markup with a CBO score coming. And we look forward to that before it comes to the House floor so all of the members of Congress have a chance to see that.”

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady noted that for the bill to pass the Senate under the chamber’s reconciliation rules, it has to balance in the budget window. “And we’ll make sure it does,” the Texas Republican said.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he “can’t answer” whether the CBO would issue a score before the bill goes before the House for a vote.

The New Jersey Democrat said he hopes not. “I hope that’s not where we go because that’s where we’re going to start going down that path with everything,” he said.

Pallone also criticized scheduling a full markup before the bill could be considered by subcommittees.

Asked about the timing of the study of the budgetary impact of the repeal effort, CBO Director Keith Hall declined to provide a date. “I can tell you, we’re working very hard on it,” he said.

“I believe in regular order. I believe in going through the process the way it was meant to go through,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Tuesday. The Wisconsin Republican took a shot at the way Democrats compiled the 2010 health care law, although that legislation went through both hearings and markups, and was delayed several times to allow the CBO to release its scoring. “We didn’t write this bill in my office on Christmas Eve like Harry Reid. … The committees are writing this legislation,” Ryan said.

“I’m excited that we are doing this the right way, that we are doing this out in plain sight,” he added.

In another sign that the understanding of regular order could be redefined, McConnell signaled a House-approved bill would go straight to his chamber’s floor for a vote. “I hope to call it up when we receive it from the House,” McConnell said on the floor Tuesday. A senior GOP aide later said no decisions had been made on the Senate’s procedural path.

The White House signaled its support for the House bill, dispatching Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to Capitol Hill to shore up support.

At the same time, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer vowed that the House bill would go through regular order in both chambers, adding that GOP leaders aren’t jamming anything “down people’s throats.”

A key member of McConnell’s leadership team, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, the vice chairman of the Republican Conference, expressed doubts on Kansas City KMBZ radio on whether the House bill could muster majority support.

“What I don’t like is it may not be a plan that gets a majority of votes and lets us move on, because I think we can’t stay where we are with the plan we’ve got now,” he said Tuesday. “I think the nucleus of the plan is clearly there, and the president says it’s negotiable and so do House members, so I’ll be interested to be part of that negotiation as we work toward a majority in the House and Senate that puts a bill on the president’s desk.”

Opposition from Republicans included Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who called the the legislation a “missed opportunity and a step in the wrong direction.” Emboldened by opposition from Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, Lee joined Senate colleagues and House conservatives in an afternoon press conference to criticize the bill as “Obamacare-lite.”

“This is exactly the type of back-room dealing and rushed process that we criticized Democrats for, and it is not what we promised the American people,” Lee said in a statement.

His home-state counterpart, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, dismissed GOP divisions. 

“That’s par for the course,” Hatch said. “I haven’t seen any major bill come forward where you don’t have differences of opinions. You just have to work through it, that’s all.”

Rema Rahman, John T. Bennett, Jason Dick and Doug Sword contributed to this report.

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