Democrats will begin slow-walking Senate business on Monday as part of their opposition to Republican attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Democrats will object to requests for “unanimous consent” to set aside rules and expedite proceedings. The procedural move is a tactic the minority party can use to draw out the legislative process for days, forcing Republicans to jump through procedural hurdles to get anything done.
The goal, he said, is to refer the GOP health care bill to a committee where it can be debated and amended publicly. Republicans are writing their bill “under the cover of darkness because they’re ashamed of it,” he said.
“This is a bill that would likely reorder one-sixth of the American economy and have life-and-death consequences for millions of Americans, and it’s being discussed in secret with no committee hearings, no debate, no amendments, no input from the minority,” he said. “This is the most glaring departure from normal legislative procedure that I have ever seen.”
The move coincides with a new #AmericaSpeaksOut campaign Senate Democrats launched Monday urging Americans to “speak out against Trumpcare and share their stories.” They also plan to hold the Senate floor tonight with speeches about health care.
The House passed its Obamacare repeal bill in May, but Senate Republicans have been drafting their own bill behind closed doors.
In a letter, Democrats provided some Senate Republican leaders with a list of all 31 potential Senate rooms “to assist” Republicans in scheduling a hearing.
They wrote that Democrats, by comparison, held about 100 hearings and meetings, accepted more than 150 amendments sponsored or cosponsored by GOP senators and spent 25 days in floor debate during the drafting of the Affordable Care Act.
The move by Democrats to slow Senate business will not impact consideration of President Trump's nominee to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, who is expected to be confirmed Tuesday, according to a Senate Democratic aide. Schumer said Democrats would not object to requests for unanimous consent on honorary resolutions, either.
The greater impact likely will be the interruption of the legislative process and routine Senate business.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Schumer asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to hold an all-senators meeting to discuss a bipartisan way forward on lowering the cost of health care, raising the quality of care and stabilizing the insurance marketplaces.
McConnell responded that senators would meet on the Senate floor with an unlimited amendment process. He said there would be "ample opportunity" to read and amend the bill when Schumer asked whether Democrats would have more than 10 hours to review it.
"I rest my case," Schumer said
Republicans blame Democrats for refusing to negotiate on a health care bill.
“Democrats for MONTHS have stated they have no interest in working with Republicans on fixing Obamacare,” Michael Reed, the Republican National Committee’s research director and deputy communications director, wrote in a statement. “Now, Democrat efforts to feign outrage over health care negotiations should be seen for what it is — a pure partisan game aimed at placating the far-left.”
McConnell, in a Senate floor speech, said Obamacare has increased costs and reduced choice, causing Americans to drop coverage. He said the entire Senate Republican conference has been “active and engaged” for months on legislation that would stabilize insurance markets, remove mandates to buy insurance, and preserve access to care for those with pre-existing conditions.
“We believe we can and must do better than Obamacare’s status quo,” he said.
The House-passed health care bill, called the American Health Care Act, would lead to 23 million fewer people having health insurance by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. If the Senate is able to pass health care legislation, the two chambers will have to come to a compromise to get a final bill to Trump’s desk.
As Democrats prepared for battle over the Senate bill, conservative House Republicans planned to send a letter to McConnell warning against letting the legislation get too moderate if he wants to keep support from the House after it passed the Senate.
The letter from the Republican Study Committee, which has more than 150 members, states that its members have “serious concerns regarding recent reports suggesting that the Senate’s efforts to produce a reconciliation bill repealing the Affordable Care Act are headed in a direction that may jeopardize final passage in the House of Representatives,” according to a copy of the draft obtained by USA TODAY.
Contributing: Eliza Collins