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Republicans Are Hiding Their Healthcare Plan in a Basement Because Everyone Hates It

The House GOP leadership is refusing to let even other legislators get a glimpse at what's sure to be an unpopular bill.

According to the traditional story of the founding of Mormonism, after Joseph Smith received the golden plates containing the text of the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni, he had to guard them from his covetous neighbors, going to great lengths to hide them and refusing to let anyone see the ancient language inscribed upon them. 

Now Republicans in the House of Representatives are basically doing the same thing, except instead of a mystical set of artifacts it's a healthcare plan. And instead of worrying about the jealousy of yokels in 19th-century upstate New York, the plan's GOP authors are concerned that nearly everyone will hate what they've come up with. So Republican leaders have placed this top-secret plan in an office building basement—really—near the Capitol in Washington, DC, and only allowing Republicans who are members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to see it.

Congressional Republicans have been working toward repealing the Affordable Care Act—a goal of theirs since Donald Trump was just a guy playing a rich man on TV—for months, but have been stymied by their own inability to agree on what should replace it. Conservatives and libertarians want to peel back government involvement in healthcare; Republican governors who expanded Medicaid under the ACA don't want to have to take insurance away from their constituents; some Republicans floated a "repeal and delay" plan that would allow them to vote against the ACA before they came up with a replacement; there are conflicting plans floating around the Senate; Trump himself has sent confusing signals.

For weeks, House Speaker Paul Ryan—famous for his attention to policy—has been teasing a plan to replace the ACA, though he's kept it vague because whatever gets proposed will be politically unpopular. The Ryan plan is expected to replaced ACA subsidies people can use to pay for insurance with tax credits and roll back the Medicaid expansion, in other words making it harder for the uninsured to buy insurance and kicking some poor people off the government rolls. More broadly, if Republicans want to replace the ACA with something that requires less government spending, it's going to involve some people losing benefits they have now, a point made obvious from the details of a recently leaked draft of House GOP legislation.

Obviously, liberals and Democrats will hate whatever Ryan and his crew come up with. But a lot of conservatives also hate the details of the plan that have leaked because it involves too much government spending. On Thursday, informed about the whole secret-plan-in-a-basement idea, libertarian-ish Republican Senator Rand Paul took to Twitter to denounce the plan as falling short of the #FullRepeal he and other hard-liners want. "I will not vote for Obamacare Lite nor will many of my colleagues," he said. Though Paul is in the Senate and therefore doesn't have any direct influence on what happens in the House, that sentiment has been echoed by the House's far-right Freedom Caucus. (Some of what the Freedom Caucus wants in a repeal package, like cutting funds to Planned Parenthood, will likely be opposed by moderate Republicans in the Senate.)

By Thursday afternoon, demands from politicians from both parties to see the bill had degenerated into an absurd spectacle, as reporters followed those politicians around as they searched for the bill. Paul found the room with the bill, but was barred from seeing it as the press looked on: 

For now, no one knows what's in the basement except for those few legislators who have seen it. Reportedly, the economic impacts of the plan won't even be scored by the Congressional Budget Office before the committee votes on it. But sooner or later, the plan will have to be made public and Ryan will have to defend it publicly. That the speaker is putting that day off for as long as possible likely indicates that he knows just how impossible his situation is—and maybe, he knows just how unlikely it is that that top-secret document will become reality.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.