Here's a novel idea. Members of Congress should have time to read—fully read, from start to finish—the text of a bill before being asked to vote on it.
Frustrated by a secretive process for rewritting the House's health care bill, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he would reintroduce a resolution requiring the Senate to give its members sufficient time to read lengthy bills before they could be called upon to cast votes. His "Read the Bills" resolution would change Senate rules to require bills and amendments to be filed for one day per 20 pages before they could be considered, giving lawmakers time to digest legislation before giving their vote.
"Legislation is too often shoved through Congress without proper hearings, amendments, or debate, as the secrecy surrounding the Senate's health care bill and the pressure to vote for it with little time to fully evaluate the proposal once again remind us," Paul said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
The Senate version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is expected to be unveiled later today, after weeks of secretive work behind closed doors to draft changes to the bill. (UPDATE: The bill has been released. Read Peter Suderman's coverage of it here.)
As passed by the House, the AHCA is 131 pages long. Under Paul's proposed resolution, a 131-page bill would require a period of at least seven days between when it was filed and when it could be voted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has promised there won't be a vote until next week, but the Senate version of the bill is likely to grow longer, perhaps much longer, than the House-passed version as amendments are added. For context, the final version of the Affordable Care Act was more than 900 pages long when it was passed in 2010.
"If we are to answer to the American people, it is imperative we pay close attention to the legislation we pass," Paul said.
Paul isn't the only member of the upper chamber to be rankled by the secretive, rushed legislating. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Mike Lee of Utah have expressed concerns about having enough time to read and understand the bill before an expected vote next week. "Even though we thought we were going to be in charge of writing a bill within this working group, it's not being written by us," Lee told Bloomberg News earlier this week. "So if you're frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly."
With 52 Republicans in the Senate, it would take three defectors to block the bill's passage.
Paul is the most likely to jump ship. In addition to his complaints about the process, Paul has been openly dissatisfied the substance of the AHCA since it was first introduced by House Republicans in March, criticizing the bill for not going far enough to repeal taxes and regulatory mandates created under Obamacare. The tax credits included in the bill—a replacement for Obamacare's subsidies to help low-income Americans afford insurance—have been specifically targeted by Paul as "a new entitlement program."
"My main concern is I promised voters that I would repeal—vote to repeal Obamacare. And everything I hear sounds like Obamacare-lite," Paul told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Despite months of criticism of the bill, Paul has not taken an official position on whether he will support it. He told Bloomberg News earlier this week that he would make that decision after seeing the text of the bill.
He will likely get to see it on Thursday. Whether he has time to read the whole thing remains to be seen.