Corker criticizes ‘awkward process’ of closed-door Senate development of Obamacare replacement

There has been some media attention to Sen. Bob Corker’s recent criticism of secrecy surrounding development of a Republican U.S. Senate plan to replace and repeal Obamacare – a process where fellow Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander has been actively engaged, though the committee Alexander chairs was bypassed.

Corker’s comments, as initially reported by the Huffington Post Tuesday:

“It’s a very awkward process, at best,” he told reporters. “There are no experts. There’s no actuarials. … Typically, in a hearing, you’d have people coming in and you’d also have the media opining about if a hearing took place, and X came in and made comments.”

Corker’s frustrations come as Republicans continue to struggle with how, exactly, to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The House barely passed its bill, which is going nowhere, earlier this month. Senate leaders delegated the task of drawing up a bill in that chamber to a group of 13 Republicans who have been quietly meeting. Corker said he went to one of their meetings to offer input because he’s worried they’re going to unveil a final bill that hasn’t been shaped by public hearings or media analyses.

“Those are all informative, right?” Corker asked. “This process, not being that manner, can create a lot of blind spots. To me, I’d rather have the input as we move along than a bill be produced and all of a sudden it’s the product and then everybody opines.”

Asked if he’s raised these concerns with party leaders, he replied, “Oh, of course.”

From a follow-up story in the Times-Free Press:

Alexander said Wednesday he’s not feeling left out. He said in an email the Senate working group actually includes every Republican senator and all may attend meetings of any smaller groups.

“It’s important to get every voice heard in this discussion: Man or woman, rural, urban, west, or east — we’ve got a big complicated country and healthcare affects every American in a very personal way,” Alexander wrote.

A spokeswoman in his office pointed out Alexander’s committee isn’t involved because the House ACA repeal bill was passed as a budget reconciliation measure. That puts it in the Senate budget and finance committees.

“However, as chairman of the Senate health committee, Sen. Alexander has been focused on helping Tennesseans trapped in the collapsing individual market and held a hearing in February where Tennessee Insurance Commissioner [Julie Mix] McPeak served as one of the witnesses. Republicans in the Senate are at work right now developing proposals to rescue these Tennesseans and millions of other Americans — and Sen. Alexander has encouraged Senate Democrats to do the same.”

Corker told the Times Free Press in an email he has attended several of the health care reform meetings.

“There’s no question that we all want to resolve the issues that are driving up health care costs, limiting choices, and creating uncertainty in the individual market,” Corker said.

“How we get there matters, and while I very much appreciate the focus on this important issue, I do wish we could move to a process that includes public hearings and allows for a greater amount of input from diverse stakeholders.”

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