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EDITORIAL: No, you can’t read the legislation

Democrats don't want lawmakers to know what's in health care legislation before Congress votes on it. President Obama and Democratic leaders apparently recognize their chances of ramming through a vote are hurt if members of Congress actually have a chance to read the bills.

On Wednesday, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee killed a Republican amendment to Chairman Max Baucus' health care proposal that would require a three-day waiting period between when the bill is completed and a committee vote could be held. This short waiting period would allow panel members time to examine the actual legislative language and full cost of the Baucus bill before voting on it. This is important for a tax-heavy bill that - when combined with other existing legislation - could nationalize as much as 10 percent of the U.S. economy.

House Republicans have introduced a measure that would require the final version of all nonemergency legislation to be posted online 72 hours prior to any floor vote. This would be a valuable reform, but few Democrats will have the courage to buck House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and provide the support needed to ensure members actually have the chance to know what they are voting on. Mrs. Pelosi promised a 48-hour waiting period before a vote on the $787 billion stimulus package but didn't deliver. We wouldn't be surprised to see similar shenanigans this time around.

When major legislation is completed, it is the result of negotiations that can be years in the making, with many last-minute changes. Hundreds of pages can get jammed into bills in the middle of the night with only a few staffers knowing what's in them. Having a few days to digest the information should be mandatory.

The president and the Democratic majority in Congress have put their prestige on the line with the government health care proposals. Back in 2004, then-Sen. Barack Obama complained about the federal budget and the Patriot Act not being read before passage. That's an inconvenient truth for the president now that he is in charge and his party can benefit from laws being passed unseen.

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