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[WASHINGTON] Democrats furious with Republican secrecy planned to bring Senate business to a halt on Monday night to protest President Donald Trump's party crafting a back-room Obamacare repeal plan and refusing to hold public hearings about it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to pass the legislation by June 30. Democrats fear he is purposely keeping the bill under wraps until the last minute, when he can try to jam the controversial plan through with just a few hours of floor debate.
The strategy is a 180-degree shift from the Republican position during the 2009-2010 debate on Barack Obama's health care reforms, when the party demanded transparency at every step of the extended process.
In the six weeks since the House of Representatives passed its Obamacare repeal legislation, Senate Republicans have insisted they will craft their own bill, but few details have emerged.
Democrats planned a series of steps Monday night to gum up Senate procedure.
According to a senior Senate Democratic aide, lawmakers will object to Republican unanimous consent requests and debate health care "late into the evening" through a series of speeches.
"Republicans are drafting this bill in secret because they're ashamed of it, plain and simple," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The tactics are aimed at helping "shine a light on this shameful Trumpcare bill" and reveal Republican intentions to give wealthy Americans tax breaks while making middle class Americans pay more for insurance, he said.
Even though Mr McConnell has sought to downplay the closed-door nature of the negotiations, few Republicans appear to know exactly what will be in the legislation - and some have begun speaking out against the strategy.
Senate Republican Marco Rubio said he hoped there would be "plenty of time for debate and analysis" on such a crucial bill.
"If it is an effort to rush it from a small group of people, straight to the floor in an up or down vote, that would be a problem," the senator from Florida told CNN on Sunday.
Republicans have signalled one of the main internal debates focuses on reforms to Medicaid, the health care programme for individuals and families with limited resources that Obamacare expanded.
The Senate version is expected to end the Medicaid expansion more slowly than the House bill would, and it could include larger tax credits to help older Americans purchase health insurance.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday that "we feel very good about the progress that's happening."
But when asked directly whether White House legislative aides have seen a draft, Mr Spicer said: "I don't know. I've not asked that question."