Blogs > Checkered History > The Debate over the Lack of Debate on the GOP Healthcare Plan

Jun 22, 2017

The Debate over the Lack of Debate on the GOP Healthcare Plan

tags: Senate,Healthcare,Trumpcare

This blog is by Allen Mikaelian. Allen is an editor and writer who specializes in creating meaningful projects for amazing people. He holds a history PhD from American University, is a former editor of the American Historical Association's "Perspectives on History," and lives in Washington, DC.

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Congress Has a History of Legislating in Secrecy:  Interview with Julian Zelizer 

● Republican secrecy faces mounting criticism as GOP senators work behind closed doors to replace Obamacare

"I love history." —Sen. Cory Booker Senate Floor, June 19, 2017

On Monday, Democrats organized a Senate floor protest, delivering lengthy speeches against what they saw as “shameful” maneuvers by the Republicans to craft the Obamacare replacement bill behind “closed doors.”

The Political Uses of the Past Project discovered in these speeches an unusual number of references and appeals to history. The story of how Obamacare came to be was certainly front and center, but senators reached back further, searching for context and comparisons.

Senators referenced the 1993 HillaryCare effort, Strom Thurmond’s 1957 filibuster of civil rights legislation, the debate over whether to arm merchant ships prior to the US entry into World War I, the Constitutional Convention, and the Connecticut Compromise. They gave shout-outs to John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, FDR, and former Senate Historian Don Ritchie.

The comparisons between what the GOP is doing now and what the Democrats did in 2009 was unavoidable. But the floor speeches went further and evoked the entire history of the Senate. Speeches claimed that the time spent on deliberations back in 2009 broke or challenged all previous records. The Affordable Care Act spent near-record time in markup. Two committees spent more time on the ACA than they ever had spent on any other issue before. And so on.

There’s a palpable anxiety in these statements, and in other statements which try to remind Americans why, historically speaking, we have a Senate. The past is bubbling up in these speeches because there’s a sense that the Senate is at yet another turning point, one potentially larger than the nuclear option dropped on judicial nominations by both sides.

If the Republican senators succeed in passing their American Health Care Act, their secrecy and speed could quickly become the norm. And not just for the Republican majority, but for the next Democratic majority as well. The advantages of holding hearings, listening to experts, and fashioning compromises are harder to see in this hyperpartisan fog. The emphasis for this majority, and possibly for the next, seems to be simply forcing legislation through (and then claiming yet another historical laurel--productivity!).

So a big part of these uses of the past that we saw on Monday, collected below (most of them, anyway), is pure nostalgia. It’s a yearning for a Senate that is either already gone or soon will be.

The Political Uses of the Past Project provides daily updates of historical references by elected and appointed officials. Subscribe to the email newsletter, follow on Twitter, or visit the Facebook page to keep up.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Length of Obamacare deliberations were record-setting

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: Not since before WWI has there been “such a secret, partisan process for passing a major bill”

Sen. Jeff Merkley: Markup of Obamacare in HELP committee was its longest ever

Sen. Kamala Harris: GOP health care bill “is the least popular piece of legislation in modern history”

Sen. Thomas Carper: Obamacare “looked a lot like” what Republicans offered in 1993

Sen. Ron Wyden: Obamacare Senate session the second-longest in US history

Sen. Charles Schumer: Markup for Obamacare “one of the longest in history”

Sen. Christopher Murphy: Senate not fulfilling role envisioned by Connecticut Compromise

Sen. Cory Booker: Tradition of the Senate is to “slow things down”

Sen. Jeff Merkley: Affordable healthcare within scope of FDR’s and founders’ vision

Sen. Cory Booker: Unlike AHCA deliberations, Constitutional Convention was “public, open, transparent”

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