Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday turned back a Republican amendment to wait 72 hours and require a full cost estimate before the final committee vote on the health care reform bill.
It was the committee’s first vote out of more than 500 amendments awaiting them, in what has already been a contentious mark-up session.
The amendment would have delayed a vote on the final bill for about two weeks to allow the Congressional Budget Office to complete its final analysis on the cost and implications of the legislation.
Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln was the only Democrat to vote with Republicans for the amendment, further signaling that she may be an attractive swing vote for Republicans.
Instead, the panel passed an alternative amendment that would require the committee to post the full bill, in “conceptual” instead of legal language, as well as as a CBO cost estimate.
Separately, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers on Wednesday announced their own effort to force Democratic leaders to give members of Congress — and the public — 72 hours to review legislation before any bill is brought to the floor for a vote.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Brian Baird, Washington Democrat, and Republican Reps. John Culberson of Texas and Greg Walden of Oregon, would require House leaders to post all non-emergency legislation online, in its final form, three days before a vote.
The lawmakers have begun circulating a discharge petition that would force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote on their bill, which has been stuck in committee for months.
GOP lawmakers in particular have hammered Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders 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, Ohio Republican, said Wednesday. “Congress can, and must, do better.”
In the Senate Finance Committee debate, Democrats argued that the amendment, offered by Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, was merely an attempt to stall President Obama’s top legislative priority.
“This is fundamentally a delay tactic,” said Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.
Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, promised committee members that they’d have a preliminary analysis of the bill before they vote.
Republicans said the full analysis, which details the cost and implications of the bill, is necessary to inform their vote.
“It’s what [the public] expects us to do anyway — read a bill before you vote on it,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, ranking Republican on the panel.
Further complicating the process is the fact that the Finance Committee works on “conceptual language” — plain English explanations that are later turned into legislative text.
The committee has always worked with conceptual language with the understanding that if a lawmaker finds a discrepancy later, the chairman can change the text to reflect what was intended.
Democrats argued that the conceptual language made it easier to understand what the committee is voting on, but Republicans said that the legislative details are significant.
Rushed floor votes on the stimulus bill and the cap-and-trade energy bill — both of which totaled more than 1,000 pages — have fueled calls from the public that lawmakers read bills before voting on them. The House resolution is supported by several public-interest groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, which point 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 summer, Mrs. Pelosi told a reporter she would allow a 48-hour waiting period prior to bringing health care legislation up for a vote.
The discharge petition requires 218 signatures to force a vote on the bill, which has 98 co-sponsors. There are currently 256 Democrats and 177 Republicans in the House.