Repeal the 72-Hour Rule! Or Amend It, At Least.

Politifact goes to town on the House GOP for voting on the Budget Control Act without leaving it out there for 72 hours of reading, as per the Pledge to America.

The House has sometimes squeaked by, posting a bill very late at night, waiting one day, and voting the next. They argued that having the bill posted – even briefly – on three separate days met the terms of House rules adopted at the beginning of the year, which specify that a bill cannot be considered until the third calendar day on which it has been posted. That squeaking by ended with the compromise legislation that extended the federal debt ceiling. It was posted Aug. 1, 2011, the same day that members of Congress voted on it.

Question: Who cares? The 72 Hour Rule is a good idea that was finally implemented for naked political reasons and designed fairly randomly. The idea for the rule came from the Sunlight Foundation and some conservative Democrats who didn’t like that they were being forced to vote quickly on massive regulatory and spending bills. The 72-hour period was, like I said, random – it seems like a long enough time to study something.

Why was it finally adopted? Voters didn’t like the process that produced the Affordable Care Act. Conservatives produced a few snappy, often-circulated videos of Democrats seemingly pooh-poohing the idea of bill reading. (The key video was of Nancy Pelosi saying “we have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it.” She meant “it’s getting unfairly reported on, when we pass it you’ll see the good stuff.” This wasn’t how she was heard.) So Republicans rammed it through. Bam: New rule.

There quickly arose a problem with the rule. Not all bills take a long time to read! The various versions of the Budget Control Act were not multi-thousand page puzzles. They were between 57 and 107 pages. Every member I asked told me that he’d read the bills shortly after they were released. Were they lying? Possibly, but I pop-quizzed about how parts of the bill worked, and they knew. 

So the text wasn’t the sticking point. The bill didn’t take long to read. The only problem I saw was that understanding the impact of budget cuts takes some study, some talks with experts, and so on. Because that’s what’s needed here, why not mandate that instead of some random amount of time?