JUDY WOODRUFF: This is an important week for the fate of a bill designed to replace and potentially overhaul the health care law often referred to as Obamacare.
Republican senators are trying to finish drafting key portions of their own bill affecting coverage and costs. But Democrats say the entire battle over repealing the law is quite different from standard operating procedure, and not nearly transparent enough.
Lisa Desjardins looks at how it’s playing out in the Senate.
LISA DESJARDINS: Right now the debate over health care is red hot in Congress, but only behind closed doors, as Republicans privately try to craft a Senate bill.
And that is something Democrats, like Senator Claire McCaskill last week, have been raising publicly.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-Mo.: We have no idea what’s being proposed. There’s a group of guys in a backroom somewhere that are making these decisions. There were no hearings in the House. I mean, listen, this is hard to take, because I know we made mistakes on the Affordable Health Care Act, Mr. Secretary.
And one of the criticisms we got over and over again, that the vote was partisan. Well, you couldn’t have a more partisan exercise than what you’re engaged in right now. We’re not even going to have a hearing on a bill that impacts one-sixth of our economy.
LISA DESJARDINS: McCaskill wants something called regular order. What is that? Well, it used to be the normal process. A bill goes through committee hearings, where experts and those affected by an issue ring in.
Then senators on the committee can vote to change the bill with amendments. And then, when a bill gets to the Senate floor, regular order means another chance to change it with amendment votes there too.
In 2009, with the Affordable Care Act, two Senate committees held three months of hearings and went through weeks of voting on amendments.
More recently, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said he wanted regular order when Republicans took over in 2015.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: We need to open up, open up the legislative process in a way that allows more amendments from both sides.
LISA DESJARDINS: But that’s not how Republicans so far have planned this health care debate. Again, in regular order, bills go through committees and amendment votes. Instead, this time around, Senate Republicans have indicated they may send their health care bill straight to the Senate floor with little, maybe no chance to amend it. And they have held no hearings on the bill so far.
Leading this process is Republican Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: Well, I don’t know that there’s going to be another hearing, but we have invited you to participate.
LISA DESJARDINS: Who stressed to McCaskill that he wants Democratic ideas, if not more hearings and votes. But that differs from Hatch in 2009, when Republicans were the minority, and he thought Democrats were moving too fast on health care.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: We at least ought to take the time to do this right.
LISA DESJARDINS: In the end, it took Democrats 14 months to pass their health care bill in 2009 and 2010. That’s why this moment is critical. The Senate will make or break health care reform. And Senate leaders, including Hatch, have said they want to pass a full health care bill by the end of this month. That’s just nine or 10 legislative days away.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.