Pelosi Won't Give Public a Week to Review Text of Health-Care Bill Before House Votes on It

By Marie Magleby and Monica Gabriel | June 26, 2009 | 6:18 PM EDT

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) (AP Photo)

( - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) will not give the public a week to review the final text of a health-care reform bill before it is voted on later this year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) has also declined to commit to giving the public a week to read and consider the final health-care bill.

At her press briefing on Thursday, Pelosi was asked whether the health-care bill would be handled differently than the stimulus bill, which came up in February. The 1,071-page final text of that bill was posted on the House Appropriations Committee’s Web site late on a Thursday night and then voted on the next day.

“When the stimulus bill came out earlier this year, members and citizens had less than two days to review the final version that came out of the conference committee before it was voted on,” asked Pelosi on Thursday. “Will you commit to giving Americans at least a week to review the full conference version of the health care bill before it is voted on? And also will you commit to submitting the final version to the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] so that they can report the cost to the public?”

Pelosi would not commit to giving the public a week to review the bill, and did not respond to the question of having the CBO report on the cost of the final bill.

“Well, we will abide by the regular order. You heard the question,” she said. “It was about having the health care bill out there a week in advance. We will have the regular order in terms of the appropriate amount of time, 48 hours in advance for amendments before you file the bill, another day before you can take up the bill.

“But this bill is something that has been unfolding before the American people for a long time now. The areas of controversy are well known,” said Pelosi.

“The issue of a public option is probably the most significant debate that we will have in the House on the legislation, as I see it now. But the bill will come forth under the regular order, and that's why the three chairmen put out the draft now,” she said. “They put out some principles earlier on. The President put out his principles. We had a month before the Memorial Day break for everyone to see what was happening there to take ideas from our members.

“So it was in the public domain, but not as a bill,” said Pelosi, continuing to respond to the question of whether she would give the public a week to review the final bill. “Now they have put out this draft which has been well received, and I'm very proud of the work. It's a well managed approach to how we go forward. And when we are ready with a draft then we will put that forth, but as I say, it will be under the regular order.”

The three House committees working on the health-care plan have released what they call a “discussion draft” of the legislation.  It is 850 pages long.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has produced its own 615-page draft that is missing key sections, including the section that would explain the “public option”—or government-run health insurance organization.

After the House and Senate actually pass bills, the two versions of the legislation will go to a House-Senate conference committee where they will be reconciled and where entirely new provisions can be added. The final version of the bill that emerges from this conference committee will be voted on by both houses, and if passed, sent to the president for his signature before it can become law.

This final bill is likely to be well over 1,000 pages long and will include mandates and regulations that could permanently transform the U.S. health care system.

Like Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also said last week that he would not commit to giving the public a week to review the final text of the health-care bill.

“We are going to follow the rules and do the best we can so that the new rules we have for transparency will be effective,” Reid said at his own Thursday news briefing when asked about giving the public a week to read the final health-care bill.

“We have been putting things online. We’re doing so much more than we did just a year or two ago, so I think there’s no secrets, we try to be as upfront as we can, give everyone as much opportunity as we can to move forward,” he said.

House and Senate rules differ slightly, but basically the House allows a vote three calendar days after the conference committee’s report is posted and the Senate allows a vote after 48 hours.

House Rule XIII, section 4. (a)(1), says: “. . . it shall not be in order to consider in the House a measure or matter reported by a committee until the third calendar day (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays except when the House is in session on such a day) on which each report of a committee on that measure or matter has been available to Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner.”

Senate rules allow a voted 48 hours after the conference committee version of the bill has been posted.

Senate Rule XXVIII, Section 9. (a)(1) says: “It shall not be in order to vote on the adoption of a report of a committee of conference unless such report has been available to Members and to the general public for at least 48 hours before such vote.”

In February, lawmakers had less than 48 hours to review the final conference report on the economic stimulus bill before voting for it.

President Obama is pushing for both houses of Congress to vote on health-care legislation before they take a recess in August. He wants the bill on his desk by October. Republicans argue that such a sweeping reform should not be rushed.
“This is much more serious than the rushed and ill-conceived stimulus legislation,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said last week. “If we fail to do this the right way in order to simply check the health reform box, we will all suffer the consequences for the rest of our lives.”