"I've had a lot of people ask me, specifically, when the health care bill is going to be released to the public, why it isn't public," he said in an online video addressing constituents. "The short answer to the question is that I haven't seen it either."
Lee, who is a GOP member of the working group tasked with drafting the legislation, said "it's not being written by us."
"It's apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members of the Republican leadership in the Senate," he added
The senator's statement came just a few hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that the first public draft of the health care bill would be released Thursday. The legislation could be voted on as early as next week, moving to the floor after a cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
McConnell says he is confident the measure will pass; but he can't afford to have more than two of the 52 GOP senators vote no.
Lee, though, picked at what many are criticizing — that the GOP-led Senate has worked too much behind closed doors to revise the bill passed in the House early last month that dismantles former President Barack Obama's landmark Affordable Care Act.
While the Utah senator acknowledged an urgency to health care reform, he is frustrated by the approach.
"We should have been able to see [the bill] weeks ago," Lee said, "if we were going to be voting on it next week."
State Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, echoed those concerns Tuesday in a 13-minute-long livestreamed condemnation of the Senate's efforts, begging that Sen. Orrin Hatch put the brakes on the legislation.
"There are so many reasons to make changes to Obamacare," Dabakis said, "but that's not what Orrin Hatch has been planning behind these closed doors."
Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key player in modifying the health care legislation, told a Bloomberg reporter last week he's "not sure anybody knows the full details" of the bill while "we're working at it."
"I'm in the same category," Hatch said.
Still, the senator's office said Tuesday that Hatch and his staff "have been involved in the drafting process for several weeks."
And Utah's senior senator has stood by the bill. He told Talking Points Memo last week that "we're not worried" about releasing the legislation to the public as much as "getting it together" for a majority vote.
Hatch did, however, decry Democrats about seven years ago for ramming Obamacare through Congress with little debate and few specifics before a vote.
"It is really unbelievable," Hatch said at the time. "We are being asked to move forward on legislation that will reform one-sixth of the American economy and impact every American life and business without knowing what is actually in the bill."
Republicans long have bashed the Affordable Care Act for its passage without a single GOP vote.
Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock condemned Dabakis' comments as "something so departed from fact and reality." He said once the measure is introduced, senators will hold an open amendment process and won't vote until the legislation has a CBO score — "as is common practice with large legislative proposals that cross committee jurisdictions."
"Any claims about a lack of transparency are not based in precedent or reality," Whitlock added. "Nor do they take account of the fact that this issue has now been debated for nearly a decade."
Even so, Dabakis denounced the GOP health care bill as "completely the opposite of logic," "a catastrophe," "so flawed" and "death to Utahns." The state senator has not seen the Senate's revision, so it's likely he's basing his remarks on the House bill.
In that iteration, about 23 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 than if Obamacare were to stay intact, according to the CBO.
Dabakis also scolds Hatch for accepting campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies — which make up a sizable portion of his contributions — while adding that the longtime U.S. senator "has done a lot of good things over the years with health care."
Hatch was a principal sponsor, for instance, of the Children's Health Insurance Program for low-income children.
"His heart, somewhere down there, is good," Dabakis said. "I hope we can appeal to Orrin Hatch."
Dabakis, who favors fixing Obamacare rather than tossing it, shared an online petition Tuesday and pledged to bring it to Hatch himself. It's unclear how many people have signed the form, which knocks the Senate for "a backroom rewriting [of] American health policy."
Lee and Hatch met with President Donald Trump and 13 other Republican senators last week at the White House to discuss health care reform. The president called their efforts "generous, kind, with heart."