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Hey, Congress, 'Read the bill!'

Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa

FORT DODGE, Iowa – With American protesters shouting, “Read the bill!” at their U.S. representatives during the summer’s town hall meetings, a growing tide of lawmakers are working to force Congress to slow down the legislative process enough to do exactly that.

A pair of resolutions are pending before the U.S. House of Representatives that would require Congress to delay both debate and voting on legislation until bills are made public online for a set waiting period.

A bipartisan group of 128 legislators have co-sponsored the first resolution, H. Res. 554, which would require any legislation – including both original bills and significant amendments – be made public for 72 hours before debate can begin.

The second, H. Res. 721, would make the waiting period 30 days in the specific case of major health-care reform.

“In my eyes, it’s simply common sense to give the American people the time they need to analyze proposed legislation,” said Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, a co-sponsor of both bills. “Unfortunately, it’s become a common practice for lawmakers in the House of Representatives to offer sweeping legislative measures just hours before we’re expected to vote on them. Sometimes, these proposals are introduced in the dead of night. This is undemocratic, and it needs to stop.”

Latham’s website points to a recent example in June, when lawmakers added a 300-page manager’s amendment to the cap-and-trade energy bill at about 3 a.m. on the day the House voted on final passage of the legislation.

Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., along with Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is the original sponsor of H. Res. 554.

“Members of Congress are too often asked to make decisions on bills that can be longer than telephone books and are only given a few hours to actually read them,” says Baird. “Both parties are guilty, and both should stop doing it.”

“Shadowy legislative practices shut the people out of the process and force representatives in Congress to vote on important proposals without knowing what’s in them,” Latham added. “It’s time to bring transparency back to Congress.”

Many Americans during the recent congressional recess expressed displeasure at town hall meetings over massive spending and health-care legislation that the Obama administration urged Congress to pass quickly.

Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wis., was one of several legislators to be met at their town halls with protesters chanting, “Read the bill! Read the bill!”

A Wisconsin man who attended Kagen’s town hall meeting in Green Bay explained to the Fox News Channel that he wanted to express the message, “We don’t feel that Washington is listening to us.”

He told host Bill Hemmer, “The way the Congress has been acting in general lately is in my mind totally unconstitutional. They want to take one of the most important issues in my life, which is health care, they want to say that they are going to reform it, but they haven’t even read the bill.”

Rep. Baird told Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund his resolution should help address the citizens’ frustration.

“One of the reasons voters are so upset today is that they get the sense they aren’t being trusted to make their own judgment about what goes on in Washington,” Baird said.

The language of Baird’s bill itself states its purpose is to “enhance public participation in American democracy” and “help restore public trust in government.”

The bill also states its purpose is to “slow the explosive growth of the $11,000,000,000,000 national debt of the United States, reduce excessive annual budget deficits, and control the size and scope of government by ensuring that there is adequate scrutiny of proposals for new and amended laws, taxes, and expenditures.”

Despite bipartisan support, however, H. Res. 554 has languished in committee since June.

Similar measures have also failed in the Senate, where last week, the Senate Finance Committee narrowly voted down a proposal to require a 72-hour waiting period before the committee casts any final vote.

“Let’s be honest about it,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. “Most people don’t read the legislative language.”

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told Politico only five percent of Americans could understand the legalese, anyway.

“Anybody who thinks that is going to be transparent to the American people is really not telling it like it is,” Conrad said.

On the House side, however, the movement for a waiting period is gaining steam.

Rep. Walden last week filed a motion to discharge H. Res. 554 from committee, which means if 218 representatives can be found to sign the discharge, the resolution can be voted on, even over the objections of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“If Americans contact their representative and encourage him or her to sign this discharge petition,” Baird told Fund, “I’m confident it will become law.”

Americans may contact their representative from the U.S. House website.

At press time, 178 of the required 218 representatives had signed the discharge pushing for a vote on H. Res. 554.

The other transparency proposal, H. Res. 721, which would require a 30-day waiting period on major health-care reform, was introduced to the House by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., only just this month and also remains in the House Committee on Rules. It currently has 43 cosponsors.