Yesterday a group of moderate democratic senators (and one independent) sent a letter (reprinted below) to Majority Leader Harry Reid asking that health care legislation to be online for 72 hours before a vote. It’s a dramatic recognition that “every step of the process needs to be transparent.” The letter asks the Majority Leader to ensure that legislative text and complete budget scores are online and accessible for at least 72 hours before the Senate votes for final passage of the bill. But their letter goes even farther than that. The group of eight senators calls for the text and budget score to be publicly available online for 72 hours prior to the first vote to proceed to the bill and for 72 hours of public online availability before the vote on the conference report. The senators also request that the text of all amendments be posted online before debate. They don’t call for 72 hours to elapse before consideration of each amendment, which is an appropriate compromise that allows the public to access amendments without indefinitely stalling movement on the bill.
The eight senators could be critical to the passage of health care legislation and we hope the Majority Leader will heed their call. We don’t want to see the 72-hour rule begin and end with health care, however. All legislation should be posted online for 72 hours prior to debate so that there is time for the public to read and analyze bills that matter to them and share their support or concerns with their elected representatives in Washington. Legislation has been introduced in the House that would do just that. So far, no Senator has been willing to introduce legislation that would change Senate rules to impose a 72-hour rule. Perhaps one of the group of eight will decide to do that, too.
Full Text of Letter to Senator Reid
October 6, 2009
The Honorable Harry Reid Senate Majority Leader S-221 United States Capitol Washington, DC 20510
Dear Leader Reid:
As you know, Americans across our country have been actively engaged in the debate on health care reform. Whether or not our constituents agree with the direction of the debate, many are frustrated and lacking accurate information on the emerging proposals in Congress. Without a doubt, reforming health care in America is one of the most monumental and far-reaching undertakings considered by this body in decades. We believe the American public’s participation in this process is critical to our overall success of creating a bill that lowers health care costs and offers access to quality and affordable health care for all Americans.
Every step of the process needs to be transparent, and information regarding the bill needs to be readily available to our constituents before the Senate starts to vote on legislation that will affect the lives of every American. The legislative text and complete budget scores from the Congressional Budget Office (C.B.O.) of the health care legislation considered on the Senate floor should be made available on a Web site 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 C.B.O. 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 Web site 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 C.B.O. 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.
By publically posting the legislation and its C.B.O. 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.
We respectfully request that you agree to these principles before moving forward with floor debate of this legislation. We appreciate your serious consideration and look forward to working with you on health care reform legislation in the weeks ahead.
Senator Blanche L. Lincoln Senator Evan Bayh Senator Mary L. Landrieu Senator Joseph I. Lieberman Senator Claire McCaskill Senator Ben Nelson Senator Mark L. Pryor Senator Jim Webb