House Members Bone Up on Health-Care Reform Bill

From left, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. Xavier Becerra discuss the House's work on health-care legislation.
From left, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. Xavier Becerra discuss the House's work on health-care legislation. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

They held the tutorial in the Capitol basement. The leadership had set aside five hours, from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday, with one break for procedural votes upstairs. For the first 2 1/2 hours, about 180 members of Congress had to do something for which they have limited affinity: Remain speechless. Sit still in a folding chair. Listen to staffers. They couldn't even ask questions but only jot them down for discussion later in the evening.

They were all House Democrats, boning up on the historic and controversial health-care reform legislation that's being crafted in their chamber. The rough draft of HR 3200 ("America's Affordable Health Choices Act") was unveiled two weeks ago and runs more than 1,000 pages, not counting amendments. Last week the Democrats decided that, if they're going to try to sell this plan to their constituents, they need to have a better sense of what it says, line by line.

They needed a teach-in.

So their staffers led them through the bill, section by section -- from Division A, Title I, Subtitle A, Section 101 all the way through Division C, Title V, Subtitle E, Section 2541.

After a couple of hours the Democrats had adopted a refrain:

"No one's going to say we haven't read the bill," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, as he took a break from the closed-door gathering.

"Nobody can say we haven't read it," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, just minutes later.

The display of studiousness struck veteran lawmakers as remarkable.

"Have you ever seen members sit for two hours? There's been 120 of them that have been in there throughout," said Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

"Having people sit there like a graduate class in a great university -- without being able to interrupt a professor -- very unusual," said Michigan's Rep. Dale E. Kildee, who has spent 33 years in Congress.

Some members had a printout of the entire bill. Others followed the discussion via a 34-page summary. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) took page after page of notes on a legal pad, later showing reporters the proof of his diligence.

To make matters somewhat easier for members, the packet of information handed out at the door included a glossary of health-care terms, including:


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