National Editorial: No, you can’t see the health care bill

When then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama promised not to sign major legislation until it had been posted on the Internet for public reading at least five days, trusting voters took him at his word.

Now they know better. Not only is the actual language of what is likely to become the main legislative vehicle for Obama’s signature health care reform not available on the Internet, it hasn’t been given to members of the key Senate committees or the Congressional Budget Office.

All that is available to those worried about a massive government takeover of our health care system is a 262-page description of the bill’s provisions. Bill descriptions mean nothing and bind nobody.

Brian Darling, a legislative analyst with the Heritage Foundation, believes the Senate Democratic leadership intends to use an obscure parliamentary maneuver to bring the actual health care reform proposal to the Senate floor in order to prevent a Republican-led filibuster. Once debate starts in the Senate, Democrats will only need 51 votes to add the public-option provision they have long favored.

The White House and the Democratic congressional leadership know that passing so monumental a proposal in this manner violates the president’s promise of greater transparency, but they don’t care. That became clear last week when Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., offered an amendment requiring the actual legislative language be posted on the Internet for 72 hours prior to final passage. Bunning’s amendment was soundly defeated. As The Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio reported yesterday, there is no reason to think that situation will change before a vote on final passage.

Technically, Senate and House rules require that all bills be read in their entirety three times before debate begins, with a 24-hour and one-week respite between readings to allow elected representatives to digest what’s in the bills before voting on them. But rules are made to be suspended, as frequently happens on Capitol Hill. Indeed, earlier this year, hardly any member of Congress read the 1,100-page stimulus bill because copies of the bill only became available barely 13 hours before the final vote.

Passing the even more massive health care reform bill without reading it or allowing the public to do so will qualify as among the worse instances ever of legislative malpractice. The shameless message Democrats are thus sending to the American people, with tacit approval of the White House, is this: “We won’t read the bill, and neither will you.”

The public’s response ought to have a familiar ring to it: “You won’t tread on me.”

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