March 2 (UPI) -- Plans by Republican lawmakers to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act took on mythical-like status on Thursday, as questions over its secrecy led to a literal treasure hunt on Capitol Hill.
It became known to lawmakers in Congress Thursday that a big portion of the replacement healthcare legislation Republicans have been working on, titled H-157, was being held for House review in a secret room somewhere on the Capitol grounds.
The bill's confidential location immediately sparked intense interest for Democratic and Republican lawmakers who haven't been privy to the plan -- so much so that a few even mounted a methodical search to see if they could uncover a few details.
"It's the secret office of the secret bill," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said at one room that popped up on his radar, where he then convened an impromptu news conference about legislation transparency. He'd arrived at the room expecting to get a glimpse of H-157 -- with copier in tow -- but he would be disappointed.
"We didn't get a chance to use it," he said of the copy machine.
Although they have so far revealed nothing about their plans, Republican leaders and President Donald Trump have promised for weeks that a replacement for the ACA, colloquially called "Obamacare," would offer better coverage, cost less money and stabilize the American insurance market.
Congressional Republicans began the process to repeal the ACA in mid-January, well before Trump even took office -- and some think well before they even had any idea of what would supplant the healthcare program, a scenario some industry experts and former Obama administration officials warned could be catastrophic. The night he took office, Trump issued an order to facilitate the ACA's deactivation.
Meanwhile, back in Congress Thursday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also found himself looking for clues in Capitol hallways, hot on the bill's trail -- he thought -- after unsuccessfully and curtly interrogating House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on the chamber floor about H-157's location.
"Can I see the bill today?" Hoyer asked.
"You're not on [the Ways and Means] committee so you can look [at] it when we mark it up," McCarthy replied, saying that sequence is standard procedure.
"In other words, they will mark it up before anybody in the public, including a member of the House of Representatives, can see it," Hoyer shot back, refuting McCarthy's claim. "That's not regular order."
After the spirited debate, Hoyer and a handful of Democrats spread themselves out for a physical search of their own.
"[McCarthy] said I can't see GOP's ACA repeal bill because I'm not on the committee," Hoyer later said in a tweet punctuated with #WheresTheBill, a hash phrase that caught fire online Thursday.
There was also some question Thursday as to whether a bill to replace the ACA even exists yet.
Asked if he was hiding such legislation, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said, "We don't have a bill. We are continuing to work with the Congressional Budget Office and our members on the final product."
"I have been told that the House Obamacare bill is under lock & key, in a secure location, & not available for me or the public to view," Paul tweeted at one point.
Although H-157's secret location became the subject of some light-hearted, semi-serious exchanges online Thursday, House Democrats at one point expressed a more humorless take.
"This isn't a game. People's lives are on the line," they stated on their Twitter page.
One GOP lawmaker said Wednesday that House Republicans were told they could view the bill, but only in a private reading room and they could not make copies. The aim of such secrecy could be that Republican leaders don't want any drafts of the bill leaked before it's finished -- a scenario that played out last week, Bloomberg reported. The leaked draft of that bill was immediately panned by conservatives.
"I suspect public pressure will make them release [the legislation]," Paul ultimately predicted after he and the other foragers wrapped up an unsuccessful hunt.