Boehner Broke Pledge to Give Americans ‘At Least 72 Hours’ to Read Every Bill

By Terence P. Jeffrey | December 8, 2014 | 5:13 PM EST

Then-House Minority Leader John Boehner holds the Republicans' Pledge to America at a Sept. 23, 2010 press conference. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker John Boehner has broken his pledge to give Americans “at least 72 hours” to read every bill taken up by the House before it is brought to a vote on the floor.

In his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference held in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 18, 2010, Boehner vowed that if he became speaker members of Congress and the American people would be given “at least 72 hours” to read all bills before they were brought to a vote.

That promise was later repeated on Fox News and then formalized in the Republican’s “Pledge to America."

“They've ignored the cries of outrage from the American people by forcing a vote on bill after bill without giving lawmakers enough time to even read the bill,” Boehner complained to CPAC about the Democratic leadership.

“If I'm the speaker next year, we're going to get the reform movement moving again in the United States Congress,” Boehner said. “One of my first orders of business would be to post every bill online for at least 72 hours before it comes to the floor of the House for a vote.”

“We'll require every committee to quickly post the bills that move out of their committee and put those bills online so that you can read them,” Boehner said.

In an interview with Bill Hemmer on Fox News on July 22, 2010, Boehner made this promise again.

"Then if we're lucky enough to be in the majority, and I'm lucky enough to be speaker, I will not bring a bill to the floor that hasn't been posted online for at least 72 hours," he told Hemmer. "The American people have a right to see what happens here."

The movement to make Congress post bills online long enough for members and citizens to read them started when the then-Democrat-controlled House took up President Obama’s economic stimulus in early 2009.

As reported by CNSNews.com at the time, the House Appropriations Committee had initially posted a 999-page version of that bill late on the night of Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009—the day before the House was set to vote on it. By Friday morning, the text of the bill posted by the committee had grown by 72 pages to total of 1,071 pages.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) told CNSNews.com that he did not think "anyone" would have the chance to read the bill before it was voted on.

On Friday afternoon, when the bill was being debated, then-Minority Leader Boehner carried a bulky print-out of it to the front of the chamber.

“If all of that wasn’t enough, here we are with 1,100 pages—1,100 pages—not one member of this body has read. Not one,” said Boehner. “There may be some staffer over in the Appropriations Committee that read all of this last night—I don’t know how you could read 1,100 pages between midnight and now. Not one member has read this.

“What happened to the promise that we’re going to let the American people see what’s in this bill for 48 hours?” Boehner said. “But no, we don’t have time to do that.”

The next February, Boehner made his vow at CPAC “to post every bill online for at least 72 hours before it comes to the floor of the House for a vote.”

On Sept. 23, 2010, the Republican House leadership traveled to a lumber yard in Virginia to unveil a campaign document they called “A Pledge to America.”

“We will give all representatives and citizens at least three days to read the bill before a vote,” the forward to “A Pledge to America said.”

A section of this pledge was titled: “Read the Bill.”

“We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives,” said this section of the Pledge.

What did these Republicans mean here by “at least three days?” Did they mean the same thing Boehner meant by “at least 72 hours” when he addressed CPAC?

Yes.

With Boehner standing directly behind him at the “Pledge to America” press conference, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R.-Utah) explained the pledge they were taking.

“We are taking a pledge today to do a number of things,” said Chaffetz. “It starts with requiring that all pieces of legislation be available online for 72 hours—at least 72 hours—so that the public has a chance to review the legislation and members of Congress can actually read the bills.”

In the 2010 midterm election, the Republicans regained control of the House, gaining a net of 64 seats. The newly elected Republican-majority House convened on Jan. 5, 2011. In its first roll call vote, it elected Boehner as speaker.

In his first speech as speaker on that day, Boehner said: “Let’s start with the rules package that the House will consider today. If passed, it will change how this institution operates, with an emphasis on real transparency, greater accountability, and a renewed focus on our Constitution.”

“Legislators and the public will have 3 days to read a bill before it comes to a vote,” said Boehner. “Legislation will be more focused, properly scrutinized, and constitutionally sound.”

So did this new rule say the House would need “to post every bill online for at least 72 hours” before bringing it up for a vote—as Boehner had vowed at CPAC? Did it follow through on the “Pledge to America”—which Chaffetz said meant all bills must be posted online for “at least 72 hours” before a vote?

No, it said something subtly, and significantly, different.

It said: “It shall not be in order to consider a bill or joint resolution which has not been reported by a committee until the third calendar day (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays except when the House is in session on such a day) on which such measure has been available to Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner.”

Did “until the third calendar day” mean the same as Boehner’s vow to let Americans have “at least 72 hours” to read a bill before the vote?

Not as Boehner himself has interpreted it. On multiple occasions, the House Boehner leads has called votes on major bills far less than 72 hours after the bills were posted online.

The latest example came last week, when the House voted on the National Defense Authorization Act. This 1,648-page bill was posted online by the House leadership at 10:32 pm Tuesday night. It was approved on a roll call vote at 2:37 p.m. Thursday—40 hours and 5 minutes after its late-night posting.

Penny Starr asked Boehner on Thursday whether he himself had read the 1,648-page bill. Now, Boehner did not repeat the rhetoric of the Republicans' "Pledge to America" about giving "citizens at least three days to read the bill before a vote."

He said this: 'I've been through almost every part of that bill, as it was being put together. So, trust me, I am well aware of what's in that bill."

Boehner said that if he became speaker “one of my first orders of business would be to post every bill online for at least 72 hours before it comes to the floor of the House for a vote.”

He has broken that promise.