WASHINGTON - U.S. Democrats took to the Senate floor on Monday to throw a spotlight on behind-the-scenes efforts by the Republican majority to repeal former President Barack Obama's healthcare law, known as Obamacare.
In a series of floor motions, inquiries and lengthy speeches, Democrats criticized the closed-door meetings that Republicans have been holding to craft a replacement for Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act. They called for open committee hearings and more time to consider the bill before a Senate vote, which Republicans say could come in the next two weeks, although a draft bill has yet to emerge publicly.
Lacking the votes to derail or change the Republican process, the maneuvers by the Democratic minority seemed more aimed at highlighting Republican efforts on a controversial issue. Polls have said that a majority of Americans disapprove of the Obamacare replacement that has passed the House of Representatives and that Senate Republicans are now considering.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said that the closed-door Republican meetings on healthcare amounted to "the most glaring departure from normal legislative procedure that I have ever seen."
"Republicans are writing their healthcare bill under the cover of darkness because they are ashamed of it," Schumer charged. The resulting legislation would likely throw millions out of health insurance, he said, while granting "a big fat tax break for the wealthiest among us."
Senators are not obligated to hold meetings in the open, but Democrats pointed out that there were lengthy committee meetings and many days of floor debate on Obamacare before it passed in 2010.
Several Democrats moved for the healthcare legislation to be referred to Senate committees for hearings, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused.
McConnell said all Republican senators have been involved to some degree in healthcare meetings and that Democrats would have a chance to amend the legislation they produce, once it is brought to the Senate floor.
"We're going to have a meeting on the Senate floor, all hundred of us, with an unlimited amendment process," McConnell said. "So there will be no failure of opportunity."
Senate Republican leaders would like a vote on healthcare legislation in July, before the July 4 recess if possible. But Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a bill, with moderates and conservatives pushing in different directions.
Senate Republicans also face pressure from the right. In the House, conservatives have written to McConnell to express concern about reports that say the Senate may water down the House bill.