The 72 Hour Bill: A Struggle to Read Over the Shoulder of Congress | Citizens Against Government Waste

The 72 Hour Bill: A Struggle to Read Over the Shoulder of Congress

The WasteWatcher

This summer’s tea parties and town hall meetings drew hundreds of thousands across the nation.  Although there were many issues of concern including healthcare, cap-and-trade, and the general overspending problems in Washington, citizens were united by one common goal: to remind members of Congress that they work for the American people. 

Lawmakers have rushed major bills through Congress this year without allowing time for the public to read and consider the proposals.  Even worse, Members admit they do not have time to read bills before they vote, and many do not seem to care.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) brought the cap-and-trade bill to the floor only 16 hours after Democrats unveiled a 316-page amendment that rewrote much of the legislation. Consideration of the bill began in the House at 9:30 am on June 26 and was passed at 7:15 pm that same day.  The Troubled Asset Relief Program and “stimulus” packages were filed and voted on within a matter of hours as well.  Those two massive pieces of legislation cost taxpayers $1.4 trillion, and yet, no one bothered to read the fine print.

Referring to the Baucus healthcare reform bill, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) admitted, “I don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because reading the legislative language is among the more confusing things I’ve ever read in my life.”  A bill that is incomprehensible to even a U.S. Senator deserves, at the very least, a second look by the public. 

On September 23, fed-up lawmakers launched initiatives in both the House and Senate to impose a new rule that would require bills to be posted online for public access at least three days prior to a vote. 

Republicans in the Senate proposed an amendment requiring a 72-hour waiting period and a full cost estimate before the final committee vote on the Baucus healthcare reform bill.  The amendment was struck down, with only one Democrat, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), supporting the measure.

Instead of the 72-hour amendment, the Senate Finance Committee passed an alternative amendment that would require posting a “conceptual” bill online prior to a vote, rather than the actual bill written in full legal language.  This compromise amendment is insulting to Americans who know that the devil is always in the details.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) filed a discharge petition to force a vote on H. Res. 554, a bipartisan-backed bill that would require all non-emergency legislation to be posted online in its final form 72 hours before a vote.  As of October 1, 182 members have signed this discharge petition.

The petition requires 218 signatures to force Speaker Pelosi to bring H. Res. 554, which has been stuck in committee for months, to a vote.  The resolution has 98 co-sponsors, 31 of which are Democrats.  There are 33 Democrats who have co-sponsored the resolution, and have yet to sign on to the discharge petition.

The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) has sent a letter to its members asking them to show their support for discharge petition, and will use the results in its lobbying campaign to reach the needed 218 signatures.  There will also be an online grassroots email campaign to obtain more support for this effort.

President Obama has repeatedly promised to promote transparency and accountability in the White House and in Congress.  He even pledged to post bills on the White House website for comment at least five days before he signs them into law.  Unfortunately, President Obama has yet to fulfill this promise, failing to set a positive example for lawmakers to follow.

Americans are tired of Washington’s political games.  Members of Congress need to remember who they work for, or else their jobs will be on the chopping block next year on election day.  Lawmakers who think they can continue to pass bills without an opportunity for the public to review the contents should think again.  

  -- Erica Gordon

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