Republican and conservative Democrat lawmakers revived a push Wednesday for the kind of delay to health care reform that a GOP senator admitted was partly designed to give lobbyists the time they'd need to make the changes they want.
Six Republican senators led by Jim Bunning of Kentucky introduced a "transparency resolution" Wednesday that would force the Senate to wait to consider any bill until it had been posted online with a cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office for at least 72 hours. The Bunning bill is essentially a stand-alone version of an amendment he proposed for inclusion in the finance committee bill, which Democrats shot down on the grounds that the bill was moving slowly enough. Committee hearings have been postponed since Tuesday as lawmakers await the CBO projections.
Earlier Wednesday, seven conservative Democratic senators -- plus Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) -- sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking for the same 72-hour window for the committee health reform and a final reform bill. Authored by Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, the only Democrat to vote for Bunning's amendment in committee, the letter cites the wide-ranging effects of health care reform generally and public confusion regarding the details of emerging reform legislation.
Both groups of senators cite the importance of the bill and constituents' desire for input as motivating factors. "We believe the American public's participation in this process is critical to our overall success," reads the Democrats' letter. "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."
A fundamental purpose of the Bunning bill, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) admitted during debate on the finance committee, was to give "the people that the providers have hired to keep up with all of the legislation" -- i.e. lobbyists from the health industry -- some breathing room.
"The thing I'm trying to point out," Roberts said in defense of the Bunning amendment, "is that we would have at least 72 hours for the people that the providers have hired to keep up with all of the legislation that we pass around here, and the regulations that we pass around here, to say, 'Hey, wait a minute. Have you considered this?' That's all I'm asking for."
Joining Bunning at his press conference Wednesday were GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), David Vitter (Louis.), Mike Johanns (Neb.) and James Risch (Idaho).
The Lincoln letter was signed by Lieberman and Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mary Landrieu (Louis.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Va.) and Jim Webb (Va.). Nelson led an earlier attempt to petition Reid for a delay back in July, but that letter failed to materialize. Wednesday's letter appears in full below:
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 (CBO) of the health care legislation considered on the Senate floor should be made available on a website 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 CBO 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 website 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 CBO 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 publicly posting the legislation and its CBO 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