The Collapse of American Democracy in Congress
With Vice President Mike Pence casting a tiebreaking vote giving the GOP enough votes for the motion to proceed to bring the Senate Obamacare replacement bill to the floor, called Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), we really need to take a step back and understand what unprecedented event just happened here today… and it is the collapse of American democracy in Congress.
This is not hyperbole. Let me explain.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who already proved he has no problem blowing up democratic norms, did not follow the exact same democratic legislative process for the BCRA which every bill that has ever went to the Senate floor in our entire lives went through.
The normal legislative process in the Senate would go something like this:
- Bill gets drafted.
- Bill gets introduced to the full Senate and objections are heard.
- Bill gets referred to a committee, where amendments are submitted or proposed.
- Bill is made publicly available for all to read.
- Bill needs unanimous consent in committee to go before full Senate.
- Bill is debated and amendments are submitted or proposed.
- Bill is voted on.
For the Better Care Reconciliation Act NONE OF THIS PROCESS WAS FOLLOWED, instead McConnell’s own newly minted Senate Rule 14 was invoked for the first time, taking the BCRA from step 1, written in the dark by thirteen Senators and lobbyists, and then took it right to step 6. No committees, no public debate, nothing.
This means ALL FUTURE BILLS CAN BE PASSED THIS WAY.
Republicans in the Senate have just sent a clear signal to both parties that democratic norms simply don’t have to be followed to pass a bill and because of Mitch McConnell, Congress no longer has to tell the public what is in a bill, or get a CBO score, and can draft bills in total secrecy even from members of their own party. This vote today by Republicans fundamentally changes Congress and pushes us farther away from a representative democracy envisioned by the founding fathers.
If you are a Republican, you should be very upset at this. Not just because of the destruction of our democratic norms, but because Fox News and Republican media have been telling for 7 years that this is how Obamacare originally passed.
Mitch McConnell himself once characterized Obamacare as:
“Democrats on Capitol Hill are working behind the scenes on a plan aimed at jamming this massive health spending bill through Congress against the clear wishes of an unsuspecting public.”
Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, then representing Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, said Democrats were “sacrificing the trust of the American people” by discussing healthcare in secret.
With Democrats discussing health care in secret, they're sacrificing the trust of the American people.
— Tom Price (@RepTomPrice) January 14, 2010
Even Vice President Mike Pence, then an Indiana congressman, called the drafting of legislation affecting “100%” of Americans “simply wrong.”
It's simply wrong for legislation that'll affect 100% of the American people to be negotiated behind closed doors – http://ow.ly/W9gq #hcr
— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) January 13, 2010
As a side note, of course these Republicans and Fox News was fucking lying to you. Obamacare went through the same normal legislative process as every bill before it, was publicly debated on for 11 months, multiple town hall events were held to engage with the public, the bill went through 72 committee hearings, had dozens of amendments by Republicans accepted, and a vote was put on hold for the entire summer so a “Gang of Six” with three Republicans and three Democrats could find a consensus. Then-President Barack Obama even held a televised town hall at the actual Republican Party Retreat in Baltimore to debate healthcare with the entire GOP, and wiped the floor with them I might add.
Seriously, you can watch the entire Congressional legislative process and debate, captured on live television. For example:
- March 4, 2009: White House Health Care Summit
- April 21, 2009: Senate Health Care Roundtable
- June 23, 2009: Public Option debate
- July 31, 2009: House amendment markup hearing
- October 7, 2009: House debates healthcare reform
- November 7, 2009: House debates healthcare reform
- December 4, 2009: Senate amendment session
- December 19, 2009: Senate considers healthcare reform bill
- December 24: 2009: Senate passes Affordable Care Act bill
- March 21, 2010: House passes Affordable Care Act bill
But these facts shouldn’t matter to a Republican. They were angry at this (false) narrative that Obamacare was passed in secret with no public debate, their anger shouldn’t change just because now their team is engaging in the same behavior you were told was once reprehensible.
So with Republicans in charge, and with their already proven willingness to invoke nuclear options and break down democratic norms just to get their way, we will see this new path used more and more to enact radical legislative changes.
And this now becomes the new normal, this option to avoid all public debate and transparency is now available for both parties who will use it when it suits them.
What we saw today is the collapse of American democracy in Congress, brought to you by Mitch McConnell and the GOP.