Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's breakneck schedule to get health care legislation passed by Christmas Eve would mean that the first vote on health care would happen to less than 64 hours from now -- at 1 a.m. Monday morning -- and yet we still have no final bill or score from the Congressional Budget Office.
Back in October, a group of Democratic Senators sent a letter to Reid urging him to post the final bill and CBO score online for 72 hours prior to a vote. The letter was signed by Sens. Blanche Lincoln, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Mark Pyror, and Jim Webb.
Now technically, they could argue that the Monday morning vote on the "manager's amendment" with all of the final changes of the bill doesn't count. Here's precisely what they requested:
The legislative text and complete budget scores from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of the health care legislation considered on the Senate floor should be made available on a website the public can access for at least 72 hours prior to the first vote to proceed to the legislation. Likewise, the legislative text and complete CBO scores of the health care legislation as amended should be made available to the public for 72 hours prior to the vote on final passage of the bill in the Senate. Further, the legislative text of all amendments filed and offered for debate on the Senate floor should be posted on a public website prior to beginning debate on the amendment on the Senate floor. Lastly, upon a final agreement between the House of Representatives and the Senate, a formal conference report detailing the agreement and complete CBO scores of the agreement should be made available to the public for 72 hours prior to the vote on final passage of the conference report in the Senate.
But certainly the idea of releasing a bill on the Saturday before Christmas -- as Reid is expected to do -- and then holding a vote at in the middle of the night Sunday/Monday morning, violates the spirit of transparency called for by these Senators, who wrote:
By publically posting the legislation and its CBO scores 72 hours before it is brought to a vote in the Senate and by publishing the text of amendments before they are debated, our constituents will have the opportunity to evaluate these policies and communicate their concerns or their message of support to their Members of Congress. As their democratically-elected representatives in Washington, D.C., it is our duty to listen to their concerns and to provide them with the chance to respond to proposals that will impact their lives. At a time when trust in Congress and the U.S. government is unprecedentedly low, we can begin to rebuild the American people's faith in their federal government through transparency and by actively inviting Americans to participate in the legislative process.
Remember, the vote to occur at 1am Monday is really the big hurdle -- if Reid gets 60 votes for that, it's pretty certain he'll pass the bill. Can any of these Senators argue with a straight face that releasing a bill on a weekend when most Americans are out Christmas shopping and decorating trees will provide them the "opportunity to evaluate these policies and communicate their concerns or their message of support to their Members of Congress"? Or "provide them with the chance to respond to proposals that will impact their lives"?
If they think trust in Congress is low now, wait until they see what happens if Reid resorts to such draconian tactics to ram through a bill by Christmas that would overhaul one-sixth of the nation's economy and that is supported by less than a third of the public.
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