The Hollow Republican Promises To 'Read The Bill'

It turns out, reading is hard and bills can be really long.

WASHINGTON ― A Republican House majority that rode to power in 2010 with promises including making sure bill text is available for at least three days before it’s voted on ― and statements that lawmakers ought to read the bills before voting ― approved a 2,232-page measure Thursday that nobody could have possibly read.

The text of the massive $1.3 trillion spending deal dropped around 8 p.m. Wednesday. Almost exactly 17 hours later, at 1 p.m. Thursday, House lawmakers passed the bill 256-167.

As Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) asked on the House floor Thursday: What happened to the tea party that “harangued” Democrats about having time to read bills?

“Is there no shame?” Hoyer asked. “Is there no realization of the hypocrisy that is being displayed?”

In interviews with more than 20 GOP lawmakers Thursday, the answer was, largely, no.

House Speaker Paul Ryan wasn't bothered that he broke his party's own rule to push a spending bill to the floor for a vote ju
House Speaker Paul Ryan wasn't bothered that he broke his party's own rule to push a spending bill to the floor for a vote just 17 hours after a deal was made.

Time and again, Republicans who came to Congress using hashtags like #ReadTheBill were happy to vote for a beginning-of-the-year bipartisan spending deal ― a fiscal year that was supposed to have begun on Oct. 1, mind you ― and they dismissed arguments that lawmakers and the public ought to have time to read the legislation before it gets a vote.

Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was asked about the broken procedural promises of his speakership Thursday ― there hasn’t been an open rule vote, where any member could offer an amendment to a bill on the floor, in two years; Republicans have routinely stripped provisions from legislation using rules (so-called “legislating on the rule”); and leadership has broken the three-day rule often. Ryan claimed, “By and large, we’ve done a phenomenal job.”

Ryan said lawmakers were working against a hard deadline and that Republicans had passed much of this legislation in September when they advanced two spending bills encompassing the 12 appropriations bills, so it wasn’t as if there were any “big surprises.”

But those bills were passed under different spending numbers, and scores of provisions were added to this final legislation in the past few months. Lawmakers and the public don’t know what they don’t know about the bill until they’ve actually read it ― or, more likely, a news organization or member discovers a controversial provision and it becomes an issue.

Just don’t tell Republicans that.

“Everyone knows what’s in this,” Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) told HuffPost.

When we challenged that claim, noting that the public had hardly any time to review the bill, Jenkins said the public “can go through it just like we are.”

The ‘Read the Bill’ sentiment is in full bloom and on full display. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)

When we raised the point that it would be impossible for someone to have read the bill in the time before the vote, Jenkins said the bill was being drafted by the Appropriations Committee since December. And when HuffPost noted that the public still wouldn’t have had an opportunity to read the bill when it was being negotiated behind closed doors, Jenkins said the public could “visit with their member of Congress. Their member of Congress can communicate to them what’s in it.”

Time and again Thursday, Republicans acted as if they weren’t violating the promises they made when they took over the majority and issued the “Pledge to America” ― a 45-page document that promises, among many other things, that the text of a bill will be online for at least three days before lawmakers votes on it.

When we asked Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) what happened to the “Read the Bill” sentiment in Congress, Roskam said, “The ‘Read the Bill’ sentiment is in full bloom and on full display.”

When we asked Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) about reading the bill, he told us, “We don’t live in a perfect world.”

“I’d like it to be better, but again, you have to do what you have to do. Democracy isn’t pretty but it works,” King said, mentioning that he relies on staff and legislation summaries from leadership to make up his mind.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) was sympathetic to concerns about reading the bill, but he noted that Congress was coming up against a funding deadline. When we raised the possibility of passing, say, a five-day continuing resolution to keep the government open while giving lawmakers more time to read the bill, Wilson said he would have supported that.

Other Republicans responded to questions about reading the bill by pointing out frustrations with the Senate and the 60-vote threshold for cloture, while some argued that it was perhaps immaterial that the public didn’t have time to read the bill.

“As you know, the bills are written in legalese,” Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) told HuffPost. “Very few people can understand the bill.”

But there were some Republicans who did speak out against GOP leaders quickly scheduling a vote on the omnibus.

We can’t even keep our military and intelligence secrets, but we can sure keep a secret from members of Congress on what is being negotiated on a spending bill. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.)

“I think it’s disgusting,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said. “Totally irresponsible. Totally violates our duty to our constituents.”

When we asked Amash about whatever happened to the GOP promises of “Read the Bill,” he was straight-forward. “Yeah, they lied,” he said. “Flat out.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) was also disgusted by the broken promises, saying there was not a single member who had read the bill. “You know why I know that? Because I stayed up all night trying to read it, and as fast as I was reading, there’s no way they read it,” Meadows said, mentioning that he got to pages numbered somewhere in the 700s.

Other members also pointed out that, despite claims from some Republicans that everyone has known what this bill would look like, the omnibus was kept under wraps.

“This has been the best-kept secret in Washington,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said. “We can’t even keep our military and intelligence secrets, but we can sure keep a secret from members of Congress on what is being negotiated on a spending bill.”

Loudermilk and Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) both said they were voting against the bill because of their procedural concerns.

Some Republicans did seem to sense that voting for a 2,232-page bill hours after it was introduced could be politically toxic. (Renacci is currently in a tough Senate election in Ohio.)

But National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (Ohio) doesn’t think this vote will come back to bite Republicans.

“If they want to attack something they voted for,” Stivers said of Democrats, “I think that’s hard to justify.”

Never mind that the Democrats who would be attacking incumbent Republicans for their votes on the omnibus aren’t currently in Congress. GOP leaders were celebrating the passage of the omnibus as a big win.

In the words of Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho): “These people have no shame. And they’ll say whatever to get elected. But I think the American people deserve better than this.”

Arthur Delaney contributed to this report.