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Read The Health Care Bill

Editorial Board Memo: A Safety Valve for Health Care Reform: Post Final Legislative Language Online for 72 Hours

Debate over transparency in final health care negotiations has consumed the first weeks of 2010. Much has been made over whether Congress will make final changes to the House and Senate passed versions of the legislation through a conference committee, and subsequently, whether that committee’s proceedings would be broadcast publicly via C-SPAN.

Whether or not the final deliberations around this important piece of legislation happen in front of C-SPAN cameras or not misses the mark. There is much Congress can do to improve transparency in its lawmaking, such as provide better access to legislative data, to committee and floor video, to voting records, ethics filings and earmark requests, and the Sunlight Foundation, among others, has called for these and many other changes.

But that is not the end of the matter when it comes to transparency; we should never allow Congress to pass legislation which has not been aired in the sunlight. After the House and Senate have ironed out the details of this health care legislation, a final opportunity for real transparency can be had by posting the full bill online for 72 hours prior to the final debate and vote.

If major amendments are added during the 72 hours that the bill is available to the public, then those amendments need to be made public on the Web for another 72 hours, too.

Think of this as a ‘safety valve’ – it is citizens’ final opportunity to examine the changes to legislation, for lawmakers to look at the whole package and for everyone to raise questions and concerns about the bill while it can still have an impact. In 72 hours, any citizen, advocacy organization, analyst or media entity has time to review and assess the impact of the legislation, mobilize others in support or opposition, and/or take action in whatever form they see fit.

The 72 hour rule applied to the health care legislation—or any legislative measure—goes beyond transparency theater and delivers real accountability because it gives citizens ultimate oversight before a bill that impacts every American’s life becomes a law.

Two Congressmen [a stalwart Democrat, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) and a similarly stalwart Republican, John Culberson (R-TX)] have introduced H.Res. 554 which would create a 72 hour rule for all non-emergency legislation. Even without the rule-changing legislation being passed, however, we know that Congress can give the public 72 hours to review the health care legislation, in particular, because congressional leadership has already done so at other critical points in the debate.

There is no measure more important to debate in the open than health care, and this is a moment when we all need to be champions for public, online disclosure and engage with our government. With 72 hours, the buck can actually stop with citizens the way our Founders intended.

It is clear that fully updating our 18th century government rules for the 21st century and making legislation more transparent with the tools and technologies available to us is a process that will take time. No matter where you stand on the health debate, however, one thing is certain for today: Lawmakers and their constituents alike MUST have at least 72 hours to read and respond to the final legislation before it is debated.

Health Care Online for 72 Hours

Now it’s getting down to the wire and debate over the health care bill not only extends to what’s in the final package but how public the final negotiations are going to be. There’s even a public fight about legislative procedure – whether the bills will go to a formal conference committee, whether C-SPAN will be able to broadcast those hearings so the public can see the sausage being made.

But much of this discussion about transparency is partisan driven so it makes me grit my teeth (which my dentist tells me I really shouldn’t do). More importantly it misses the mark. There is much Congress can do to improve transparency in its lawmaking, such as providing better access to legislative data, to committee and floor video, to voting records, ethics filings, and earmark requests, and we and others have called for these and many other changes. A conference committee is hardly the be all and end all of Congressional transparency.

But that is not the end of the matter: we should never allow Congress to pass legislation which has not seen the light of day. After the House and Senate have ironed out the details of this health care legislation – or any bill – a final opportunity for real transparency can be had by posting the full bill online for 72 hours prior to the final debate and vote. (And if major amendments are added during the 72 hours that the bill is available to the public, then those amendments should be made public on the Web for another 72 hours, too.)

Think of posting something on line for 3 days as a ‘safety valve’ – a final chance for citizens, media, lawmakers and lobbyists alike to look at the whole package giving everyone one last opportunity to raise questions and concerns about the bill. If readers are in an advocacy mode they have time to mobilize others in support or opposition, and/or take action in whatever form they see fit.

There is no measure more important to debate in the open than health care, and this is a moment when we all need to be champions for public, online disclosure and engage with our government. With 72 hours, the buck can actually stop with citizens the way our Founders intended. We know that Congress do it because congressional leadership has already done so at other critical points in this debate.

This is what real transparency would look like.

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The Read The Bill photo campaign

Sunlight’s Read the Bill campaign asks that Congress post all legislation online for at least 72 hours before it is considered. Currently, we are pushing for the passage of H. Res. 554 – which mandates these important rules changes.

Your support will help us ensure that advocates and active citizens like us have time to make our voices heard before Congress decides on the policies that ultimately affect our communities.

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House Minority Leader John Boehner endorses idea of a 72 hour rule

Congress Should Take Its Time

You didn’t have the time to read the 1100 page stimulus bill. And neither did members of Congress—by their own choice. Most lawmakers—on both sides of the aisle—were only given 13 hours to read the bill before it was passed.

Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly. Many members of Congress wish they had more time to Read the Bill.

ReadTheBill.org is a commonsense solution – we want Congress to post all bills online for 72 hours before they are debated. That gives members of Congress – and you – three days to read legislation and consider how it could potentially affect each of us in our daily lives. A 72 hour rule would also give you a chance to let your senators and representative in Congress know what you like, or don’t like, about a bill before they vote.

If no one is taking the time to read these crucial pieces of legislation, then no one knows what’s in them before they are passed.

Let’s make sure Congress takes the time to Read the Bill. Sign our petition now.

ReadTheBill.org endorsed by Campbell Brown

“Congress should change its rules to require that non-emergency legislation and conference reports be posted on the Internet for 72 hours before debate begins.”
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