Tuesday, March 16, 2010;
WE UNDERSTAND the administration's sense of urgency on health-care reform. But what is intended as a final sprint threatens to turn into something unseemly and, more important, contrary to Democrats' promises of transparency and time for deliberation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Monday that she is leaning toward a parliamentary maneuver under which the House would vote on a package of changes to the Senate-approved reform bill, and the underlying Senate bill would then be "deemed" to have passed, even though the House had never voted on it. That may help some House members dodge a politically difficult decision, but it strikes us as a dodgy way to reform the health-care system. Democrats who vote for the package will be tagged with supporting the Senate bill in any event. Why not be straightforward about it?
More worrying is that Congress and the country have yet to see the changes, for which Democrats hope to win quick House approval and which they then hope to speed through the Senate under a procedure that would bar filibusters. These changes -- the so-called reconciliation bill -- are not all minor "fixes"; some could have far-reaching consequences. Such changes deserve to be fully understood and debated before they are voted on. The speaker's office says the week-long "conversation" that Nancy Pelosi promised to have with members is taking place and that they are waiting for the final word from the Congressional Budget Office before releasing the package; in any event, they say, lawmakers and the public will have 72 hours to consider the changes. But why be so secretive about it? Any number of measures -- including versions of the health-care bill itself -- have been unveiled without CBO scores.
The health-care debate has been going on longer than a year, and House members want to get it over with. They don't want it hanging over them during the Easter recess. President Obama wants progress to have been made before he leaves for Indonesia on Sunday. These are understandable desires, but they don't outweigh the need for a reasonable process on a matter of such importance.