Lawmakers Refuse To Allow Time to Read Health Care Bill

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee  voted down an amendment proposed by Republicans that would require a 72 hour waiting period and a full cost estimate to be done before allowing a final committee vote on the health care reform bill.

According to a report by the Washington Times, a proposed amendment to Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-MT) health care proposal would have caused about a two-week delay on voting for a final bill in order to allow the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to complete a final analysis on the cost and implications of the legislation.

The measure was defeated and the committee settled on a compromise that would require the posting of the full bill in “conceptual” rather than legal language along with a CBO cost estimate.

“Conceptual” language is plain English which is later turned into legislative text. The problem is that changes are often made to the text during this translation, ostensibly for purposes of clarification. Many lawmakers don’t trust this process, saying legislative details are often significant and everyone should know exactly what they are voting on.

Some lawmakers, such as Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), are dismissing these concerns, saying, “This is fundamentally a delay tactic.”

Others disagreed, such as Sen. Olympia Snow (R-ME), who said taking time to read the bill and understand the amount of money involved is just “doing our job.” She demanded to know, “What’s the rush? Is something happening in two weeks that we cannot wait? Is it the Columbus Day recess? What is it?”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, (R-IA ) also protested, saying that taking the added time to more fully understand a bill before voting is “what [the public] expects us to do anyway — read a bill before you vote on it.”

A similar fight is taking place in the House where a bipartisan group announced their intention of forcing House leaders to give members of Congress – and the public – 72 hours to review any health care legislation before it is brought to the floor for a vote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been under intense criticism for rushing long, complex bills through the House.

“The American people are angry that Speaker Pelosi didn’t allow the public and their elected representatives to read the trillion-dollar ‘stimulus’ bill or the national energy tax before they were rammed through the House,” Minority Leader John Boehner, (R-OH) said Wednesday. “Congress can, and must, do better.”

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