- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

Trying to capitalize on voters’ anger at lawmakers this summer, Republicans on Wednesday launched bids in both the House and Senate aiming to force Democrats to let them have at least three days to read bills before they’re put up for a vote.

In the House, Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, filed a petition to force a vote on a bill with bipartisan backing that would require all non-emergency legislation to be posted online, in its final form, 72 hours prior to a vote.

“At my public meetings and events, people always want to know, ‘Have you read these bills? Why don’t they give you time to read these bills?’ ” Mr. Walden said. “Members of Congress, the public, and the press all deserve the time to read these bills before we have to vote on them on the House floor.”

Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, defeated a GOP amendment requiring a 72-hour waiting period and a full cost estimate before the final committee vote on the proposed health care overhaul bill now being considered by the panel.

Only one Democrat - Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas - voted for the measure, which would have delayed a vote on the final bill for about two weeks in order to allow the Congressional Budget Office to complete its analysis on the cost and implications of the legislation. Instead, the panel passed an alternative amendment that would require the committee to post the full bill online in “conceptual” rather than legal language, as well as a CBO cost estimate.

The minority party accusing the majority of rushing bills through Congress is nothing new. But Democrats have attracted special attention this year with a series of last-minute votes on bills that exceed more than 1,000 pages.

Most recently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought the Democrats’ global-warming bill to the floor 16 hours after they unveiled a 316-page amendment that rewrote much of the legislation. In protest, Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, read and mocked portions of the amendment on the House floor for more than an hour - over the objections of Democrats - just prior to the vote.

At a press conference weeks later, Mrs. Pelosi promised to let lawmakers have two days to read the health care bill before she schedules a vote on it.

House Democrats want “a period of time that is sufficient, at least 48 hours,” after the chamber’s health care legislation makes it through the Rules Committee before a vote is called, she told reporters.

Asked whether Mrs. Pelosi supports the resolution, spokesman Drew Hammill said: “The vast majority of bills that have been considered by the House have been online for weeks. The speaker has committed to having ample time for members and the public to review the upcoming health insurance reform legislation.”

Co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, and Republican Rep. John Culberson of Texas, the resolution would also ensure that bills are posted in a public place for voters to review them.

The resolution is supported by several public-interest groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, which pointed out that hasty votes can result in unintended consequences, such as the provision tucked into the stimulus bill that had the effect of authorizing executives of bailed-out insurance giant AIG to receive retroactive bonuses.

Earlier this year, a conservative group called Let Freedom Ring asked all members of Congress to sign a pledge promising not to vote on a health care bill unless they have personally read it. As of Wednesday, the group said 118 lawmakers had signed the vow.

The discharge petition - sponsored by Mr. Walden, Mr. Baird, Mr. Culberson and Rep. Walt Minnick, Idaho Democrat - requires 218 signatures to force Mrs. Pelosi to hold a vote on the 72-hour resolution, which has been stuck in committee for months. The resolution has 98 co-sponsors, 31 of them Democrats. There are currently 256 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House.

For his part, President Obama - an advocate of transparency measures during his time in the Senate - made a pledge to post bills on the White House Web site for comment at least five days before he signs them. But he has so far failed to live up to the promise, instead posting links to Congress’ Web site, where visitors must sort through numerous versions of legislation.

• Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.

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