Democrats get the Cliff Notes treatment on their health care bill
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.I never thought those who used Cliff Notes had really read the material. I think I will still have to give the Democrats a failing grade on reading the bill. Because, lurking within a bill are some traps that can be overlooked with a scan and summary. What this process was really doing was giving them a cram course in talking points about their bill. It was about politics and having something to say to constituents, and not about legislation.
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.