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EDITORIAL: Read the health care bill, congressman

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If you are a member of Congress and you won't personally read the most important bill of the year and won't give the public time to read it either, you do not deserve to be in office.

If a full month of contentious town meetings hasn't convinced congressmen of the public's intense interest in the details of health care legislation, then those unconvinced members suffer from an incurable case of Beltway arrogance. The main symptom of this disease is a compulsion among politicians to think they rule the masses and forget that the citizenry is sovereign over elected public servants.

Let Freedom Ring, a nonprofit public-policy organization, has provided a handy diagnostic tool to test for this disease. Repeatedly, via fax, e-mail, regular mail and personal visits, Let Freedom Ring has asked members of Congress to sign a simple pledge. Its text states, "I pledge to my constituents and to the American people that I will not vote to enact any healthcare reform package that: 1) I have not read, personally, in its entirety; and, 2) Has not been available, in its entirety, to the American people on the Internet for at least 72 hours, so they can read it too."

Nothing could be simpler. Nothing could be more basic. On a bill that would fundamentally reshape one-sixth of the economy and involve something as personal and important as individual health care, the American public has a right to expect that the final version would be open and available for all to see before Congress votes on it. That's Representative Democracy 101.

Yet of 100 senators, just eight have signed the pledge, while another, Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, sent a separate letter of support. Of 435 House members, just 106 have signed. It's an insult to the public that elected public servants so brazenly refuse to commit themselves to reading laws they will impose on the rest of us.

The pledge itself should be a bare minimum. In his letter of support for the pledge, Mr. Kyl proposed going further. "Not only do I agree that the legislation should also be posted on the Internet for the American people to see, but I believe it should be available for several weeks so that everyone can analyze and debate it, and let their representatives know what they think of it," he wrote. It's telling that a majority of Congress is afraid of such fundamental legislative transparency.