Friday, November 20, 2009

Pity the poor Senate clerks.

The 2,074-page Senate health care bill released this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would take at least 34 hours to read cover to cover - and that’s just what Sen. Tom Coburn wants done on the Senate floor.

The Oklahoma Republican has threatened to force the Senate clerk (or more likely, a team of clerks), to read the massive bill before the full Senate moves to consider the legislation as expected on Saturday.

The move is strictly according to Senate rules, which say any senator can demand a bill be read in its entirety before debate begins. Although Democrats could, if they wish, repeatedly make motions to end the Senate soliloquy, Republicans on the floor could object, and the reading would continue.

What’s even more interesting is that Senate Rule XIV, Paragraph 2, states that every bill and joint resolution “shall receive three readings prior to its passage.”

“Upon demand of a senator, these readings shall be on three different legislative days,” the rules says.

At a minute a page - a reasonable pace because the pages are double-spaced and in a rather large typeface - it would take 34.5 hours to read straight through the measure.

But that’s averaging a page a minute. Republican leadership and gallery staff say the reading - with occasional slowdowns for legalistic jargon and sips of water for parched throats - could take more like 48 to 54 hours.

The bill-reading would eclipse the longest filibuster in the Senate, conducted by Sen. Strom Thurmond. On Aug. 29, 1957, the South Carolina Republican wrapped up a 24-hour, 18-minute-long tirade meant to stall voting on the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It didn’t work.

Despite hours of calling Mr. Coburn’s office to see whether he’ll really force a reading - or three - no one called back. Perhaps his aides are preparing to read the bill themselves and are saving their voices.

Joseph Curl can be reached at

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