Supplemental conference report requires waiver of three-day layover rule

By Rafael DeGennaro, April 24, 2007 – 7:40pm.

House Democrats are slipping. Members and the public will not have time to properly read the conference report on the emergency supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year 2007 (H.R. 1591). The conference report was filed this afternoon (Tues., Apr. 24) and is available on the front page of the House Rules Committee website as two separate documents. Even earlier today, the House Appropriations Committee had a detailed summary of the conference report available on its website before the full text became available. Summaries can be very helpful, but the text is crucial, and its availability is required under House rules.

The conference report is scheduled for consideration on the House floor tomorrow (Wed., Apr. 25). This means that members and the public will have perhaps 24 hours to read it. This will require a waiver of the three-day layover requirement. Yes, this is still better than standard operating procedure under the House Republican majority. But it’s not good enough, for these reasons:

1) This is a major bill. The bill text is 251 pages, (double-spaced) and the statement of managers is 303 pages (double spaced), for a total of 554 pages (double spaced). It takes time to read and understand it properly, more than 24 hours.

2) Haste is unnecessary. The crux of the Democratic argument, backed up by documents from the Department of Defense, is that the military has enough money to support U.S. military forces in Iraq for weeks more. Democrats cannot simultaneously argue that the military doesn’t need money for weeks but that members of Congress cannot have the required three days to read the conference report. (To be fair, Republicans have also made unnecessary haste in the past. The previous Republican congressional majority routinely waived the three-day layover rule to rush bills to the desk of the Republican President. There the bills would sit for days or weeks before he signed them.)

3) This is still not the heavy lifting. If Democrats cannot abide the three-day layover requirement now, that’s a bad sign. First, it is widely expected that this bill will not become law, so it’s not the final, final version that cannot be fixed later. Second, this is not the week before a recess or adjournment. Congress could easily respect the three-day layover requirement and consider the bill on the floor this Friday or early next week. Third, some spending in the bill is designated as “emergency,” and therefore exempt from spending caps. So this bill does not require the painful budget tradeoffs that will come later this year.

Finally, while I’m no media strategist, it’s clear that Democrats may want to avoid giving the White House and congressional Republicans three days to hammer the bill before Congress passes it. But that problem may be inherent in the three-day layover. Is it too much to hope that the news media can learn how to cover bills during that three-day layover in a way that makes it easier to live with? Does anyone have suggestions on how to do this?