Bunning renews transparency push for health care bill

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 7, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning is making a renewed push for greater transparency in the health care overhaul legislation as lawmakers stitch it together.

Bunning and a growing group of Senate Republicans and moderate Democrats are pressing congressional leaders this week to post the measures online, giving constituents a chance to read bills before lawmakers cast their votes.

A resolution offered Wednesday by Bunning would change Senate rules to require that all legislation, along with a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, be made publicly available 72 hours before consideration on the Senate floor or in committee.

Critics who argue that his proposal would dramatically slow the legislative process and needlessly confuse the average citizen are being disingenuous, he said. "They put down the American people saying no one understands legislative language."

Bunning's measure is, in part, a response to complaints constituents lodged during the summer's heated health care town halls. Some argued that lawmakers and the public hadn't been given the chance to properly vet health care overhaul bills.

"If you wonder why Congress has such a low esteem rating during the August recess that's one of the prime things we've heard," Bunning said Wednesday.

Bunning's resolution is a continuation of his failed effort in the Senate Finance committee two weeks ago to have the health care bill scored by the Congressional Budget Office and made publicly available three days prior to the committee vote. Bunning's proposal was defeated by one vote along partisan lines. Moderate Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas joined Republicans to support the proposal.

The Finance committee relies on conceptual language -- a condensed version of legislation -- when considering measures. The committee's Republicans acknowledged that they never protested the practice during the previous administration but pointed out that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have complained about the need for greater transparency, particularly on measures that spend billions of dollars. Bunning invoked President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign pledge of greater government transparency.

"I call on President Obama, who came into office on a platform of transparency in government, to urge his former colleague, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to immediately take up this legislation," Bunning said.

"The American people want it, and as we wade into the health care debate, passage of this commonsense resolution will be critical."

Reid's office has said the process for considering health care legislation has been transparent and will remain so moving forward.

On Wednesday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., cited a new budget office analysis of his committee's health care bill as evidence that the committee has worked openly and efficiently. The analysis shows that the bill would result in health insurance coverage for 94 percent of the nation, cost $829 billion and reduce the federal deficit by $81 billion between 2010 and 2019.

"Our balanced approach to health reform has paid off yet again with the news today that the America's Healthy Future Act remains fully paid for, begins to reduce the federal deficit within ten years and makes significant reductions in federal debt over the next several decades," Baucus said.

Meanwhile, at least eight moderate Senate Democrats are also pushing leadership to post the health care reform legislation and budget office scores on the Internet for 72 hours before votes are cast. The Democratic group included Lincoln and Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jim Webb of Virginia.

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