Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) told reporters Wednesday at the weekly Republican House leadership press conference at the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Republican National Committee that the American Health Care Act he supports was written in a series of private meetings, rather than through “regular order,” the normal committee process.
More than a year ago, the speaker said he established working groups drawn from the standing committees with jurisdiction to draw up plans for the repeal and replacement of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.
Ryan said his bottom-up process was open to any Republican congressman who was interested in participating.
The two committee chairmen in the lead, Rep. Kevin Brady (R.-Texas), chairman of Ways and Means, and Rep. Greg Walden (R.-Ore.), chairman of Energy and Commerce, heard concerns from members involved in the process and made changes to the draft as necessary, the speaker said.
The actual bill was not made public until it went online Monday at 6 p.m. at ReadtheBill.GOP. Until it was posted online, the working draft was not available to the public and the working group meetings were not open to the public.
When then-Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Paul Ryan was canvassing House conservatives for support in October 2015, he promised to return to regular order. Speaker John Boehner had become very comfortable with drafting bills privately with President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats and then presenting the completed draft in front of House Republicans for an up-or-down vote–often giving congressmen little or no time to read the bill.
Ryan himself did the same thing when he was the chairman of the House Budget Committee in December 2013. Just before Christmas 2013, Ryan reached a two-year budget agreement with Sen. Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) without telling Capitol Hill conservatives about the bill, which was passed as the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. Written in secret and put on the House floor on short notice, the bill had the effect of taking the budget off the table for House and Senate Democrats in the 2014 election cycle. At the time of the Ryan-Murray budget deal, Murray was the outgoing chairwoman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
In his opening address Jan. 3 to the 115th Congressional Session, Ryan extolled the virtues of regular order and claimed it as a hallmark of his tenure as speaker. “When I came into this job, I pledged to restore regular order. Get the committee system working again. Hold regular House and Senate conferences—because only a fully functioning House can do the people’s business. We’ve made great progress since then.”
Even as the speaker spoke Wednesday at the press conference, the Ways and Means Committee and Energy and Commerce were moving forward to pass the American Health Care Act and move the bill to the House Rules Committee–less than three days after Brady and Walden submitted their approved text.
Neither Ways and Means nor Energy and Commerce held hearings on the American Health Care Act–a function of regular order and the opportunity for committee members to hash out a bill with subject matter experts in a public forum.
Capitol Hill conservatives, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) and members of the House Freedom Caucus, have proposed alternative bills and complained that they have been boxed out of the process, which the speaker dismissed as growing pains.
“I think what you are seeing is we’re going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party,” he said.
“Being an opposition party–64 percent of our members have never known what it is like to work with a Republican president or to be in a unified government,” he said. “It is a new feel. But, it is all the more reason why we have to do what we said we would do and deliver for the American people and govern.”