Debt-Limit Vote Breaks GOP Pledge to Post Bills Online for 3 Days Before Vote

August 1, 2011 - 3:03 PM
John Boehner

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(CNSNews.com) - When the House of Representatives voted this evening on legislation to increase the limit on the federal debt by as much as $2.4 trillion, House Republicans broke a promise included in their 2010 Pledge to America to post the text of bills online “for at least three days” before bringing them up for a vote.

“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 the Pledge to America. “No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.”

This Pledge to America was released on Sept. 23, 2010, in the midst of the 2010 congressional campaign season, which ended with the Republicans taking back control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats.

Explaining the Republicans’ vision in a response to President Obama’s radio address on Oct. 30, 2010—just before the election—Rep. John Boehner explained that “Americans should have three days to read all bills before Congress votes on them.”

“The American people are in charge of this country, and they deserve a Congress that acts like it,” said Boehner. “Americans should have three days to read all bills before Congress votes on them--something they didn't get when the 'stimulus' was rushed into law. We should put an end to so-called 'comprehensive' bills that make it easy to hide wasteful spending projects and job-killing policies. Bills should be written by legislators in committee in plain public view--not written in the Speaker's office, behind closed doors.”

The promise to post bills online for three days before voting on them was included in a section of the Pledge to America that focused on reforming Congress.

“Americans have lost trust with their government, which has too often ignored the will of the people in favor of party loyalty and a desire to pass partisan bills at any cost,” said the introduction to that part of the Pledge to America. “Backroom deals, phantom amendments, and bills that go unread before being forced through Congress have become business as usual. Never before has the need for a new approach to governing been more apparent than under Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership. Americans are demanding change in the way Congress works, and we are fighting to bring much-needed sunlight to the process and give the American people a greater voice in their Congress.”

Curiously, a summary of how the Republican Congress has fulfilled the Pledge that is included on the House Republican Conference’s Web site qualifies the language of the promise to post legislation online three days before voting on it. This summary headlines the Pledge’s section on the three-day rule: “A Three Day Waiting Period on all Non-Emergency Legislation.”

The words “non-emergency” or “emergency” do not appear anywhere in the text of the original Pledge for America as published by the House Republicans, and as still available in full-text form on the Republican Conference’s Web site.

However, it might be problematic for House Republicans to call the debt-limit bill a piece of “emergency” legislation. The House has been aiming to pass debt-limit legislation by an Aug. 2 deadline ever since May 16, when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the Treasury had bumped up against the statutory debt limit and that the accounting measures legally available to the Treasury in such a situation could keep the debt below that limit only until Aug. 2.

The House Republican Conference did not immediately respond to an inquiry from CNSNews.com about the origin of the language on the conference’s website that says the three-day pledge applies to “non-emergency legislation.”

The Budget Control Act, the proposed legislation that would raise the debt limit by as much as $2.4 trillion, was posted on the website of the House Rules Committee at 1:45 a.m. on Monday morning.

A vote is expected on it imminently.

Back at the Sept. 23, 2010 press conference, when House Republicans announced the GOP Pledge to America, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) spoke about the three-day pledge as Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio)—now speaker of the House--looked on.

“The process, in order to get the right results, the process is paramount,” Chaffetz said. “We are taking a pledge today to do a number of things. It starts with 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 so that members of Congress can actually read the bill.”

CNSNews.com asked several leading House Republicans via e-mail and by telephone how a vote on the debt-limit legislation less than 72 hours after it was posted online fits with their Pledge to America.

Those asked included House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Vice Chairman of the Conference Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Conference Secretary John Carter (R-Texas), and Rep. Chaffetz. None of these House Republicans responded to the question.