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Dems' motions, speeches knock GOP health bill for secrecy

Democrats say they'll begin using procedural moves to slow the Senate's work to protest how Republicans are drafting their health care overhaul behind closed doors. (Source: CNN) Democrats say they'll begin using procedural moves to slow the Senate's work to protest how Republicans are drafting their health care overhaul behind closed doors. (Source: CNN)
By ALAN FRAM
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - They threatened to slow the Senate's work with procedural motions. They forced the chamber's top Republican to swat aside reasonable sounding requests, like holding committee hearings. And they delivered speech after speech after speech.

Democrats used all those tools Monday evening to try drawing attention to the Senate GOP's secretive effort to craft a bill scuttling President Barack Obama's health care law and push it through the chamber by next week's end. Their largely symbolic effort was likely to have little or no impact on how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell handles the measure.

Yet Democrats were hoping it would have at least two effects - scare off Republicans wavering over whether to back the measure, and show liberal activists that Democrats are aggressively trying to thwart the legislation, even though they lack the votes to derail it.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers seeking re-election next year "will reap the whirlwind" once voters learn about the legislation.

McConnell, R-Ky., is using closed-door meetings among Republicans to write a bill. In the sessions lawmakers try to resolve internal GOP disputes over how to reduce insurance coverage standards Obama's law requires, cut the Medicaid health care program for the poor and cut taxes Obama levied on higher earners and the medical industry.

"The only thing more secret than Republicans' health care bill is Donald Trump's tax returns," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Democrats are increasingly worried that McConnell will jam the bill through the Senate with little debate, limiting their chance to scrutinize the bill and whip up opposition against it.

Under special rules, each party will have just 10 hours of debate on the measure before the chamber begins a vote-a-rama, a series of quick amendment votes with little discussion. Democrats have even suggested a scenario in which Senate debate begins on a preliminary version of the GOP measure and McConnell offers the final package as a late amendment, giving Democrats little or no time to criticize it.

As Democrats made a series of motions that McConnell turned aside, Schumer twice asked the GOP leader to ensure Democrats they will have more than 10 hours to study the bill before the vote.

"I think we'll have ample opportunity to read and amend the bill," McConnell answered each time.

The procedures McConnell will use will let Senate Republicans pass the bill as long as no more than two of the 52 GOP senators oppose it. It remains uncertain McConnell will be able to do that, but both parties respect his ability to keep his party unified and count votes.

"At the end of the process, Congress will have a chance to turn the page on this failed law," he said.

Senate Republicans have held no committee meetings or votes on the measure. The GOP-led House held just a handful of both before it finally approved its version of the legislation last month.

Democrats, who solidly oppose the Republican effort but lack the votes to block it, are trying to capitalize on the secrecy and contrast it with the numerous committee meetings and votes that produced Obama's 2010 statute. They say they will slow work on bills by refusing to let the Senate bypass time-consuming procedural steps, which it customarily does on most legislation.

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