Read Health Bill Before Voting, Lawmakers Urged

Published August 6, 2009

A public-interest advocacy organization is calling on all 535 members of Congress to promise they will read and make available to their constituents any health care overhaul legislation before casting a vote on it.

“If you were to ask any of the original Federalists whether the system they designed would likely produce legislation that was so lengthy and complex that not even one representative or senator debating and eventually voting on a bill had actually read it, I’m sure that they would have given a puzzled stare in return,” said Colin Hanna, founder and commissioner of Let Freedom Ring, the organization behind the effort.

Poor Precedent

Hanna points to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or “stimulus package,” as evidence his group’s pledge is needed. Congress passed the stimulus package in February, and President Barack Obama signed it into law, despite admissions by several legislators that few had actually read the bill.

“The system the framers gave us no longer works,” Hanna said. “This fact broke into the consciousness of the average citizen when it was revealed that the stimulus bill was so enormous and complicated that no one even knew what was in it.

“Lots of people knew parts of it,” Hanna continued, “but in all probability not a single person in our nation of more than 300 million had actually read the entire bill. Certainly no legislator knew enough to cast a truly informed vote.”

‘Mockery’ of the Process

Let Freedom Ring’s campaign is built around a pledge Hanna and his associates are asking every member of Congress to sign.

It says, “I pledge to my constituents and to the American people that I will not vote to enact any health care reform package that I have not read, personally, in its entirety, and [that] has not been available, in its entirety, to the American people on the Internet for at least 72 hours, so that they can read it too.”

Simple but Radical

“It’s a simple idea,” said Hanna, “and in the everyday reality of politics today, an unfortunately radical idea. Yes, the same concept could be applied to all legislation, not just the health care reform bill, but we have to start somewhere, and a health care bill that has the potential to transform our entire system seems like a good place to begin.”

At press time, only Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) had signed the pledge.

At a June 25 media availability, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to commit to giving either the public at large or the members of their respective houses a full week to read the final version of what will likely be a 1,000-page health care overhaul bill before a vote is held.

Jeff Emanuel ([email protected]) is research fellow for health care policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.