Taking the deliberation out of the world’s greatest deliberative body

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Arlen Specter held a town hall meeting on health care today in Philadelphia. The audience appears to have been mostly hostile.
In the one exchange I’ve seen, Specter tried to explain how he goes about learning what’s in a 1,000 page piece of legislation. Specter said that, because of time constraints, his practice is to divide responsibility for reading the bill among his staffers. This explanation brought boos from the crowd.
The Senate fancies itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Senate is not a deliberative body at all — not when Senators concede that they would vote on legislation to overhaul one-sixth of our economy, and arguably the most important sixth, without having read the legislation. Specter’s defense that there’s not enough time for him to read it all himself simply raises the problem in a more acute from: why would the world’s greatest deliberative body consider legislation on a timetable that leaves Senators with insufficient to see for themselves exactly what’s in the bill?
Americans inevitably will disagree over how our health care system should operate. But nearly every American would agree that Senators should know what’s in major health care legislation before they vote on it, and that such legislation should not be enacted in a rush.
The problem is not unique to health care legislation. The same thing happened last year with comprehensive immigration reform and earlier this year with the stimulus bill. Congress is at risk of losing the confidence of the American people based on purely procedural concerns.
SCOTT adds: Andrew Monaghan has posted good videos of the event at his site Panzramic. He notes: “The crowd erupts when Specter says ‘we’ve got to do this fast.’ Lots of other good stuff.” Here is the video with Specter’s quoted comment.

Monaghan is active in the Philadelphia Tea Party events. Check out the rest of his videos of the event at the link above.