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Rep. Pallone Voices Frustration Over Obamacare Replacement Bill


House Republicans have a plan to replace Obamacare, but there are a lot of members of Congress who are being forced to just take their word for it. It turns out that even those on the committee who are responsible for the bill - that would be the energy and commerce committees - haven't seen it. Congressman Frank Pallone is with us now on the line from his home state of New Jersey. He's the ranking Democrat on the energy and commerce committee.

Thanks so much for being with us.

FRANK PALLONE: Oh, thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: What do you know about the Republican proposal at this point?

PALLONE: Well, essentially nothing. I mean, we haven't seen the bill. I mean, the lack of transparency during the entire process is, you know, the worst part of all this. And I don't really know what they're afraid of. My fear is that they don't want to show us the plan because millions of Americans are going to be worse off because of it.

I mean, about a week or 10 days ago, there was a version that supposedly dates from February 10 that was leaked. So, you know, we could talk about that, which is - you know, which is actually a very bad bill. But whether that's the actual bill or whether there'll even be a markup in committee this week is still unclear.

MARTIN: You and several of your colleagues went on a search around Capitol Hill late last week. It was quite the scene. You were knocking on doors, searching in the dark corners of the Capitol, looking for a secret reading room. I mean, how much of that was just political theatrics? Did you really expect to find a bill sitting in a secret room?

PALLONE: Well, we were told that the Republican leadership on the committee was making the bill available to their members, to the Republican members, that day - which I guess was last Thursday or Friday - and that they could go down to a particular room in the Capitol and see it.

There's no question that that took place. But by the time we got there, either we had the wrong room or they had removed the bill. I suspect they had removed the bill from the room. So, you know, we were basically saying - OK, well, show us the bill. And so we went to the majority leader. We went to the committee chair. But they just wouldn't talk to us.

MARTIN: But they're not required to, right? I mean, House Speaker Paul Ryan said about all this suggestion that they're hiding the bill - this is a quote - "give me a break. This bill will go through the committee process. It'll go under regular order. That's precisely the most transparent way to do the business and the opposite of what Democrats did in 2009."

I mean, does he have a point? The Democrats didn't exactly give Republicans a lot of lead time before putting out the Obamacare legislation.

PALLONE: Well, he's absolutely wrong, first of all, because the House Democrats posted the bill online for 30 days before the first committee held the markup. And, you know, that's one of the reasons why they were able to pick it apart and say we didn't like this or we didn't like that.

And regular order, Rachel - you know, if Ryan means it - which I don't think he does when he says regular order - in our committee, that would mean there would have to be a hearing before the House subcommittee. There would have to be a markup in the House subcommittee, and then it would go to the full committee for a markup and then to the floor. I mean, that process probably would take about a month.

So if it's true that they're going to mark up this bill Wednesday, what I suspect they're going to do is simply put out a notice of the markup without a hearing, without a subcommittee markup or a full committee markup either maybe tonight, which would mean you'd have maybe 24 hours to look at this thing before you had the vote.

MARTIN: Just briefly - in seconds - can you compromise with Republicans on a replacement plan?

PALLONE: Well, I think the problem with the Republicans is they just don't want people to see this bill because it's going to really hurt the average American. A lot of people are going to lose their health care. They're going to lose their benefits. They're going to pay more taxes, and that's what this lack of transparency is all about.

MARTIN: We'll have to leave it there. Frank Pallone is the ranking Democrat on the energy and commerce committee. He spoke to us from his office in New Jersey.

Thanks so much, Congressman.

PALLONE: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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