Which Party Was More Secretive in Working on Its Health Care Plan?

Republicans have been accused of secrecy in drafting a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. And members of both political parties have complained.

Republican lawmakers have had far fewer days of public activity on their health legislation in the first six months of this Congress as compared with the same period eight years ago when Democrats wrote the health care law, according to a New York Times analysis.

Days of public activity during the first
six months of each new Congress

On the current G.O.P. bill

On the Affordable Care Act

On the current G.O.P. bill

On the Affordable Care Act

The Times counted the number of days that the five House and Senate committees directly involved in drafting legislation held public hearings or markups, as well as floor activity such as debates and consideration of amendments, in both chambers.

Discussion of health care changes related to both bills began long before the periods shown in the chart below. For comparison, only activity beginning with the start of each new Congress is shown: 2009 for the Affordable Care Act and 2017 for the current Republican bill.

Each box represents a day of public activity in the House or Senate.

First 6 months of new Congress

First 6 months of new Congress

First 6 months of new Congress

First 6 months

of new Congress

Note: This analysis includes only the committees directly involved in shaping and passing the bills.

Eight years ago, Senator Mitch McConnell, who is now leading the repeal effort in the Senate, complained that the Affordable Care Act was “being written behind closed doors, without input from anyone.”

But so far, Republican lawmakers have had just nine days of public activity on the repeal bill, compared with 43 for the Affordable Care Act during the same six-month period.

The House committees held four hearings and the Senate committees one related to health care changes, all before a bill was drafted. Neither the House Republicans nor their Senate counterparts held a hearing on their versions of the bill before unveiling the legislation.

“At the hearings, there are experts testifying who bring different points of view,” said Allison Hoffman, a health care policy expert and law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “You see problems that wouldn’t come up otherwise, problems that when you’re 13 men behind closed doors you may not surface on your own.”

Amid criticism even from his own party, Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, created a 13-member working group consisting entirely of men to lead the health care overhaul. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a member, said even he had not seen a draft of the bill two days before its release.

While lawmakers often draft major legislation in private, they usually refine, debate and amend it in open committee sessions.

A comparison of the first six months for both bills

Number of

Senate hearings

Bipartisan meetings

in the Senate

Number of Senate hearings

Bipartisan meetings in the Senate

This year, the two House committees involved in drafting legislation each held one markup session — the closest thing to a public writing and approval of a bill — with each lasting a day. In 2009, the Senate health committee spent a total of 13 days marking up the bill that became the Affordable Care Act, seven of them during Congress’s first six months.

Republican lawmakers have spent just two days debating policies related to their bill on the House floor. The Senate, so far, has spent none, and is planning to vote on the bill as soon as the leaders have enough votes to pass it. The Affordable Care Act was debated on the House and Senate floors for 31 days before the bill passed.

The Republican health care bill is still a work in progress, so it’s possible that more public activity could occur before a bill passes both chambers. But so far, there’s little evidence to suggest that Republicans will shift from secrecy.