Making a mockery of democracy, one congressional bill at a time

It turns out the joke was on us.

In August — while thousands of Americans were dutifully attending town hall meetings to let their elected representatives know they oppose big government, big bureaucracy and high-tax health care — unelected congressional staff huddled in Washington, D.C., writing their own health care bill.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee bill that emerged Sept. 17 had actually been voted on by the committee two months earlier. For two months, Democrats who control the committee refused to let anyone read the bill.

Now we know why. Unelected committee staff made more than 70 changes to it.

Provisions that had been agreed to by elected members of the committee were eliminated at the whim of partisan staff members.

And this is just the beginning of a legislative process that has become so corrupted it’s a wonder we bother to elect members of Congress anymore. Once the Senate Finance Committee passes its health care bill, three Senators — Majority Leader Harry Reid, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee member Chris Dodd — will meet with their staffs in secret to produce a final bill.

Think about it: All the power of the U.S. Senate to transform one-sixth of our economy will be in the hands of three men and their aides.

Republicans and moderate Democrats have repeatedly pushed for a requirement that bills be posted online 72 hours before a vote in order to allow Americans and members of Congress to know what’s in them before they become law. However, Democratic leadership has repeatedly blocked or voted down these attempts at transparency.

Democrats’ insistence on not reading bills before they make them law brings to mind two possible motives: They are trying to rush through laws they know Americans don’t support or they are passing legislation that’s too sweeping and complicated to be understood.

Either way, they’re making a mockery of government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

With the technology we have today, there’s no excuse for the American people being cut out of the lawmaking process. There’s even less excuse for lawmakers to opt out of it.

Here’s a solution: Every bill should be posted online at least 72 hours before a vote. Every committee “markup” meeting to amend a bill should be webcast. And every amendment should be filed online in real-time.

If we demand our right to be a part of the legislative process, we can keep our republic. If we don’t, the joke really is on us.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has published 19 books, including 10 fiction and nonfiction best-sellers. He is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation and chairman of American Solutions for Winning the Future. For more information, visit www.newt.org. His exclusive column for The Examiner appears Fridays.

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