Democrats were haunted by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s line on the Affordable Care Act: We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.
Early Saturday morning, Republicans upped the ante with their own corollary: You’ll find out what’s in the bill once we have a majority, presuming you can read the handwritten notes scrawled in the margin.
The sprawling, $1.5 trillion tax reform package before the Senate received approval after GOP leadership marshaled the adequate number of votes. Setting aside the merits of the bill, though, the opaque manner in which the legislation was crafted and passed by both houses of Congress is a shameful act obscured by darkness until the last minute.
Government is most effective when conducted transparently and in regular order. The mad dash to author a bill, one that would please at least 50 Republican senators, released just hours before the vote failed to meet either of those ideals.
Public hearings? There were none. The committee process? Nonexistent. Ample time for study? Some Democrats reported receiving a list of proposed amendments before even seeing a draft of the bill.
Oh, and the bill is forecast to increase the national debt – which was once anathema to Republicans and their apparently bygone era of being deficit hawks – by 7.5 percent, adding another $1.5 trillion on the existing $20 trillion total. Legislation that momentous must be thoroughly vetted before a vote.
Tax reform was one of Republicans’ major legislative priorities. But, for as important as party leaders claimed it to be for the country, this should have been done properly, not hurriedly. All 52 Republican senators shot down a Democratic effort to delay a vote until they had ample time to digest and comprehend a 479-page bill riddled with handwritten crossouts and notes.
Instead, Americans got a bill through the Senate before the measure got scored by the Congressional Budget Office.
Things didn’t have to go this way. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress, plus the White House. The requisite number of votes almost certainly still would have been there had congressional leaders managed this process in a transparent fashion.
Those who allowed this bill to remain hidden from the eyes of their constituents – including Nebraska Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse – should be ashamed for backing a series of actions that run counter to a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Rather than the thoughtful, open debate Americans deserved and needed from their lawmakers on a bill of this magnitude, they received silence until GOP senators obtained a majority of votes and raced through such enormous legislation.