Democrats and a Republican senator prowled the Capitol on Thursday hunting for the draft GOP health care bill, using a show of histrionics to try embarrassing Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders who vowed just this week to be transparent in their efforts to repeal and replace the law.
Trailed by a swarm of TV cameras and reporters his office had notified in advance, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., marched to a small Capitol office where he said he'd been told there was a copy of the measure. Republicans have acknowledged that a copy of part of the developing bill is being secretly shown to some GOP lawmakers, an unusual step aimed at preventing it from being leaked.
An aide standing at the door told Paul it was not there. Paul has opposed the developing legislation, saying it retains portions of former President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul that Paul and some other conservatives want fully repealed.
"This is being presented as if this were a national secret, as if this were a plot to invade another country," Paul told reporters. He complained that the legislation contains "Democratic ideas dressed up in Republican clothing."
A few minutes later, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., also appeared, saying Democratic leaders had told him a copy of the legislation was in the room. Tonko said aides in the room told him he'd come to the wrong place.
"I want to read the bill, because it's affecting one-sixth of our nation's economy and speaks to the health care needs of the entire country," Tonko said.
In addition, No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was spending mid-day walking around the Capitol with a posse of reporters, hunting for the room where the legislation might be found.
Paul's theatrics irked House Republican leaders. An aide to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the No. 4 House Republican, claimed that Paul was actually standing outside her office, not a secret bill room.
Ryan had insisted this week in an interview with NBC's "Today" show that House Republican leaders were "not hatching some bill in a backroom and plopping it on the American people's front door." The GOP leadership has faced divisions among its rank and file over an alternative once they fulfill a longtime promise to scrap the law.
In fact, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was showing a draft of his panel's portion of the bill to Republicans on that committee in its offices, according to one GOP lawmaker and a congressional aide. Legislators were not given copies of that draft, a week after an earlier version of the measure was leaked to reporters and lobbyists.
The lawmaker and aide described the unusual procedures on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss them publicly.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Republican lawmakers at a closed meeting that leaders plan to draft legislation this weekend revamping the nation's health care system.
It was the latest indication that party leaders are trying to surge ahead despite persistent disputes over what the measure should look like.
Ryan told reporters later that "we will soon introduce legislation" overhauling the health care law. He said Republicans "are united and we are determined" to act.
Republicans have hit internal roadblocks for years in their effort to repeal that 2010 statute. While disputes remain over taxes and other issues, Republicans say party leaders want the House to approve legislation in the next few weeks in hopes of letting the Senate consider the bill before Congress takes an early April break.
Obama's law expanded Medicaid to more lower-income people, a move that 31 states accepted — along with billions in added federal payments to cover it.
The GOP plan being developed would provide money for those states and for the 19 states — mostly run by Republicans — that didn't expand Medicaid.
One of the most contentious of the remaining proposals is a new tax, backed by Ryan, that would be imposed on part of the value of expensive employer-provided health care plans. Many Republicans, though, are reluctant to vote for a tax increase — a sure way to invite challengers in primary elections.