Dec 6, 2017, 6:49 PM ET

Republicans defend tax bill process as transparent despite similar complaints during Obamacare debate


Frustrated by what he believed was an opaque, rushed process to pass a bill with massive economic implications, one lawmaker accused the opposing party of working “behind closed doors without input from anyone in an effort to jam it past not only the Senate but the American people before Christmas.”

This quote could easily have come from a Democrat complaining about Republicans pushing their tax reform bill through Congress, right down to the Christmas deadline. But it’s actually then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from December 2009, griping over what he saw as Democrats’ efforts to rush health care reform through Congress after a closed-door process.

It’s customary for the party out of power to accuse its opponents of a lack of transparency when it comes to passing major bills. As McConnell himself put it, responding to Democratic complaints about a tax bill passed Saturday at 2 AM with its text revealed just hours before, “You complain about process when you’re losing.”

But in defending legislation that materialized in the course of eight months and ten public hearings, Republicans are championing a process much less deliberative, by at least one important metric, than the one they criticized Democrats for undertaking in 2009 as they drafted a similarly consequential bill.

Overall, Democrats spent much more time publicly debating health care reform in committee hearings while drafting their bill than Republicans did while writing their tax reform proposal.

During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, three House committees with jurisdiction over the bill held at least six health care hearings over four months – from March to June 2009 – and two Senate committees – Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Senate Finance – held at least fifteen hearings over eleven months, from January to November 2009.

The HELP committee spent 13 days marking up, or amending and rewriting, the bill. The Finance Committee’s markup was eight days long.

McConnell, who was then the Senate Minority Leader, griped at the time about what he said was the lack of transparency over health care deliberations, and the speed at which they had taken place.

"They are virtually thumbing their nose at the American people who are virtually screaming at us, don't pass this bill," he said, in addition to making his Christmas comment, in December of 2009, just days before the Senate passed its bill, according to the AP.

McConnell was quoted in reaction to news that then-Majority Leader Harry Reid had made a behind-the-scenes Medicaid funding deal with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), which became known as the “Cornhusker Kickback,” to get Nelson’s support. But that deal, and a few others like it, came together only after months of deliberation in congressional committees and a summer in which lawmakers of all ideological stripes got earfuls from constituents about the bill, which helped give momentum to the anti-tax Tea Party movement.

Nelson’s carve-out was not included in the final bill, although another such deal for Sen. Mary Landrieu, which became known as the “Louisiana Purchase,” was.

After both chambers had passed their bills, there was still quite a bit of complicated procedural maneuvering before the final version of the bill was signed into law in March 2010 – including the Senate passing a separate, related bill for procedural reasons -– but only after both parties had been debating the bill’s policy for over a year.

“The debate over the Affordable Care Act was one of the most deliberative, transparent and lengthy in history with one of the Finance Committee’s longest markups on record, second only to the 1986 tax reform bill,” a Senate Democratic Finance aide told ABC.

While simply looking at the number of hearings is an imperfect measurement, said Mark Peterson, the chair of the Public Policy department at UCLA, he noted that while health care affects 1/6 of the economy, certainly no small fraction, tax reform has a more universal impact – and yet much more time was spent in hearings and in public debate for the Affordable Care Act than for the tax bill.

“[Tax reform] is affecting almost every single American in one way or another,” Peterson said.

During this year’s tax debate, House and Senate Republicans held a total of ten hearings on related policy issues over the course of seven months. Both tax-writing committees -- House Ways and Means and Senate Finance -- spent four days each marking up their respective bills.

Spokespeople for the Republican majority on both panels argue, however, that a comparable tally of hearings held on the tax issue should actually start in 2011 because that was the year Republicans gained control of the House and Sen. Orrin Hatch became the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

“Ways and Means Republicans have worked for years to ensure Americans understand how tax reform will directly improve their lives. After over 40 public committee hearings, an extensive four-day markup, and a vigorous House floor debate, House Republicans will soon deliver tax reform that lowers taxes, creates jobs, and grows our economy,” committee spokeswoman Emily Schillinger said in an email.

“Since Hatch became chairman in 2011, the committee has held more than 70 hearings focused on reforming the nation’s broken tax code and has made numerous bipartisan efforts, including drafting option papers and forming working groups, to find consensus on tax reform,” Senate Finance spokeswoman Katie Niederee said.

Aides to Majority Leader McConnell note that it’s common for bill-writers to make changes after the measures pass through committee, which is what happened during both the current tax debate and the health care debate of 2009 and 2010.

They also pointed to McConnell’s evergreen quote – you complain about process when you’re losing – which was just as true in 2009 as it is today.

News - Republicans defend tax bill process as transparent despite similar complaints during Obamacare debate

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  • SpringForward

    AND, unfortunately, the right has an enormous media machine corrupting the minds of a lot of decent people and making them vote against their own interests. The fact that Russia is involved makes it worse, but the fact that the Republican members of Congress are doing nothing is what is truly insane and absolutely unacceptable.

  • SpringForward

    I used to disagree with Republicans, but always felt like they weren't going to just sell the USA off for their donors and their own pocketbooks. I no longer feel that way. I am so disgusted by the Republicans in office right now, I have a hard time putting it into words that would keep this comment from being posted. When things are impossibly bad, they keep getting worse and the Republicans DON'T DO ANYTHING, except pass a tax bill to make things infinitely more difficult for struggling Americans. This is unreal.

  • briteleaf

    America's Grinch-In-Chief and our RepubliKKKlan congress is supporting a candidate accused by 8 women of SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND PEDOPHILIA; dropping fancy wrapped packages for the wealthy and corporate with a HUGE, PERMANENT 15% TAX CUT while tossing small, brown paper gifts on the lawns of the peons. The RepubliKKKlan congress is cutting funding for poor childrens' healthcare as well as the food program for kids in school to afford their Christmas celebrations while one in 5 American children live in a "food deprived" home and go to school hungry. It's America's most GRINCHY CHRISTMAS OF ALL TIME. Maybe you can hitch up the sled and help them deliver all the gifts for corporations and the wealthy,

  • SimpleTruthSeeker

    Tax experts scouring this sloppy, irresponsible wealth transfer called Tax Reform see NOTHING good.
    They state it's loaded with new loopholes which will desigrate tax revenue even more than publicly shared which is already beyond criminal.

  • j penske

    Mitch is such a dork.

  • B-K KnightRider

    McConnell is such pathetic liar and hypocrite. There is ZERO comparison between the two processes. For the ACA Democrats had DOZENS of hearings over something like 16 MONTHS and Republicans got to submit a little more than 200 amendments for consideration and debate and a vote. McConnell and his ilk are shameful embarrassments who power and party over what is best for the country.

  • Know 'Em

    "See, durn libs? Donny has given us the bestest economy EVER in the history of the universe, you betcha! So corporations NEED a tax break really really bad, see? They need it! Silly libs! Oh, and we need to drill everywhere in an oil glut, too! Dumb libs!" Trump's Jethros

  • Know 'Em

    As long as they have a ready supply of morons watching Fox, visiting Brightfart, and listening to Lumpy and Lardass on their radios, the republicans will always be the champions of hypocrisy across the globe.

  • Sonora Nomad

    Winners and Losers under this tax bill:
    First Winners = Corporations and commercial real estate
    First Losers = The middle class
    Second Winners = GOP politicians and their big-money donors

    Second Losers = Older Americans on Medicare and Social Security

    Don't think so?....Wait for it.

  • piboson

    Incidentally, I was there and it was an open door policy in terms of inviting input. Mitch McConnell's claim is yet another deceitful statement. On the other hand, only a handful of people were invited into the actual crafting of the "reform" legislation and then no time provided to review the details, the actual content.

  • THEFred

    All's fair as long as you're giving money to the richest .1%. The exact same tactics are only outrageous if you're helping working class Americans.

    Mitch McTurtle's face should be in Webster's Dictionary under "Corruption. See also, Hypocrisy."

  • Ron Fuller

    Once again , the Republicans are screwing the country and it is going to take the Democrats to come back and fix it. History repeats itself!

  • piboson

    Did you know that around 80 "family" farms will be impacted by the estate tax, and this is the reason Grassley and others pontificated about the death tax. However, there are about 315,000 that benefit to the tune of $$$ millions. Also, they add "personhood" to the tax legislation so the top 1% can find more tax loopholes AND the anti-choice get their agenda paid-back by Congress.

  • Red Hawk

    If this Bill is so great why no hearings? Id McConnell to ashamed of the bill to defend it.

  • piboson

    Big difference as one enabled people to get health care and live productive lives, the "reform" legislation takes from working families and gives to the wealthiest and big corporations. Anecdotal comparison is completely irrelevant as the "reform" legislation is a sham, compared to other legislation that is meaningful for the people, and comes at the expense of the wealthiest. Mitch McConnell is one really sick person.

  • IndependentforFreedom

    Republicans are still doing and being the obstructive, do nothing, filibustering, shutdown government, electors of pedophiles Trump and Moore, and their evil vendetta to continue to destroy & erase everything of Obama's Policies & Accomplishments along with his being under constant Republican resistance (even though it helped 97% of Americans), - It's still the GOP's "do as we say; not as we do". Empty the Trump Goldman-Sachs Billionaire's cesspool in mid-terms. Remove and Impeach the Trump Crime Syndicate for treason. "Make America America Again (MAAA) ~!~

  • Todd Carlson

    One huge difference, Obamacare was taking money from the people, this is giving money, freedom and power back to the people.

  • Ramreiz Manuel

    crash economy here we come

  • BD70

    A quote from FDR
    The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.

  • TexasVulcan

    I cannot believe how many people will support this bill because some in the middle class get a mild tax break. The wealthy and big corporations do not need a tax break. All that does is add to the deficit.

  • Lee Thompson

    Transparent? What a lie. They've become as lying a bunch as their POTUS. We saw what they did. Nothing transparent about it. No hearings. No debate. No opportunity for review.
    The bill was distributed less than half an hour prior to the vote, some pages hand-written, with words at the margin cut off when the page was scanned. Lobbyists handed the bill over for distribution.
    How is this transparent? No "process" involved here whatsoever. These Repubs have lost their freaking minds!

  • Elaine Hernandez

    They are looting our country, trying to blow up the middle East and Korea, pushing concealed guns onto states that have their own laws and turned a blind eye to Russia. They have sold out America for money. Voting is the only way to save this country.

  • netxtown

    2017 Repup Agenda: $1 Trillion in tax cuts for the 1%
    2018 Repub Agenda: Cuts to medicaid, medicare, social security, and welfare - to pay for it.

    B-bye middle class. It will now be Masters & Servants. Gees, Thanks! (Do I get a uniform with a high hat and arrow collar - or do I have to pay for that as well?)

  • Randy rjjd

    They couldnt wait to bring the economy and everyone enjoying a decent paycheck again back to their knees

  • A_Skri


  • BD70

    If there is any small consolation Senator Collins is taking heat for voting for this "tax reform" from her constituents. Before where she got a hero's welcome for her healthcare vote the opposite is true this time around.

  • H Ruth

    Of Course they are going to defend it because their donors demand that they defend the Great American screw job Tax plan. Paul "no backbone" Ryan has to coddle the so called freedom caucus so they would vote for the compromise Great American screw job tax plan & then Mitch "witchy poo" McConnell is going to have to coddle Susan Collins & a couple of others to pass the screw job compromise tax plan.

    I wonder did anyone catch Paul "no backbone" Ryan saying his next target is Medicare & Social Security It wasn't enough that Ryan & the Republican's are trying to screw the middle class & the low income American's now he wants to do the same to the people on Social Security & Medicare

    SO far every analysis that has come out on both tax bills that have passed 1 in the House & 1 in the Senate not a single one had a rosie picture like the Republican's have been painting

  • thee1truth

    62% of the tax breaks go to the 1%
    28% of Americans support the bill.
    58% oppose the bill
    6% has no clue

    One billion dollars is saved by the Trump family through the estate tax

    A tax on annuities for colleges that help the poor pay for college.... except for one college in the entire nation,which is Hillsdale college in Michigan that is funded by Betsy Devos.

    The people understand that this is a huge SCAM to pay off Wall St. who has artificially propped up the stock market and held the White House hostage so they can brag about the economy while only a few of the CEO's said it would go towards growth and wages.

    This is another Trump SCAM and those who support this TRUMP SCAM will be conmplicit in one of the biggest ripoffs of the peoples money in history.

    My only poetic justice moment is that it effects the people who voted for Trump....THE MOST.

    They surely deserve to be the victims of their uninformed ignorance.

    FTrump and his street gang of complicit republicans.