White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at a White House briefing earlier this week that he expects many members of Congress to read the 1,924-page omnibus spending bill the Senate is preparing to consider because he takes the members at their word.
“The omnibus I’m told is 1,924 pages. Do you worry that that could gum up things a bit?” a reporter asked Gibbs at Tuesday’s briefing.
“No,” said Gibbs, “I just think it means a lot of people will be up late reading between now and, say, the 22nd or 23rd.”
“And who is going to read that?” the reporter followed up.
“I was going to say, I noticed during the health-care debate that was a big thing,” said Gibbs. “And I assume many members up on Capitol Hill, Mark.
“Do you really?” the reporter responded.
“I mean, I take them at their word,” said Gibbs.
“Speaker Boehner?” said a reporter.
“I take them at their word,” said Gibbs.
Despite Gibbs’ reference to December 22 or 23, the current stop-gap legislation keeping the federal government funded expires at midnight on Saturday, Dec. 18. Congress must pass some kind of legislation by then to keep the government funded.
The question of whether senators and representatives were actually reading bills before voting on them first became a major issue in this Congress not during the debate over the health-care bill but during the debate over President Barack Obama’s $787-billion stimulus bill in February 2009. That 1,071-page bill was not made available to members or the public until it was posted online on the night of Thursday, February 12, 2009, less than 24 hours before Congress was poised to vote on it on Friday, February13. At the time, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) told CNSNews.com, “No, I don’t think anyone will have the chance to [read the entire bill].” CNSNews.com's story about Lautenberg's candid statement was posted prominently on the Drudge Report on February 13 as Congress debated the unread bill.
When the bill was brought up on the House floor that day, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) brought the entire 1,071-page document to a podium at the front of the chamber and declared that no member had read it. No member contradicted him. The bill passed both houses of Congress that day and President Obama signed it into law.