It was Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009. Congress was planning to vote the next day on a so-called "stimulus" bill anticipated to cost $787 billion. The final text of the bill had not been published, so no one knew exactly what it would authorize the government to do.
Ryan Byrnes and Edwin Mora of CNSNews.com went to the Capitol that day to ask representatives and senators a simple question: Would they read the final text of the stimulus bill in its entirety before voting on it?
Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey answered honestly -- on behalf of the entire Congress. "No, I don't think anyone will have the chance to," he said.
Late that night, the bill was finally posted online by the House Appropriations Committee. It was 1,071 pages long.
On Friday morning, when the CNSNews.com story quoting Lautenberg was posted, it was picked up prominently by The Drudge Report -- helping Americans learn something unlikely to be reported by the liberal media.
As Congress rushed that day to make the 1,071-page bill law, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio went to the House floor and made the same observation as Lautenberg. "Not one" member had read it, said Boehner.
Not one member rebutted him.
One element of this massive bill, it turned out, called for "a nationwide health information technology infrastructure" that would include an "electronic health record" for "each person in the United States by 2014."
Doctors and hospitals not complying with this mandate, the bill said, would be penalized by having their Medicare payments diminished.
Former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey tried to draw attention to these provisions when they appeared in an earlier version of the bill.
"Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors," McCaughey wrote in a Feb. 9 commentary for Bloomberg.com. "But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective."What did these provisions have to do with immediately stimulating the economy? Nothing. They were really about quietly pre-positioning a potentially controversial element of a new national health-care system.
Nor did President Obama or congressional leaders want Americans to seriously study the health-care bill itself.
On July 7, when Obama was pushing both houses of Congress to pass health-care bills before the August recess, Marie Magleby and Monica Gabriel of CNSNews.com covered Steny Hoyer's weekly press briefing.
Magleby asked Hoyer if he supported a pledge that asked members of Congress to read the entire health-care bill before voting on it and to make the text of the bill available to the public for 72 hours before a vote.
Hoyer burst out laughing. "I'm laughing because a) I don't know how long this bill is going to be, but it's going to be a very long bill," said Hoyer.
"If every member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn't read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes," Hoyer added.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., also found hilarity in the prospect that members of Congress would actually read a bill designed to permanently restructure the entire U.S. health-care system.
"I love these members that get up and say, 'Read the bill,'" Conyers told a room full of reporters at the National Press Club on Friday, July 24. "Well, what good is reading the bill if it's a thousand pages and you don't have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?"
Then came the Aug. 4 White House press briefing.
"At some point in the legislative process will the president read the entire health-care bill?" a reporter from The Weekly Standard asked White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Gibbs, like Hoyer and Conyers, saw humor in this proposition.
"I assume the president will study the details of the proposal, and will be -- he's a highly informed individual," said Gibbs.
"But he won't take time to read it front to back?" asked the reporter.
"I don't know what his vacation plans are currently," said Gibbs. "Will you read the health-care bill cover to cover?"
"Yes," said the reporter.
"Excellent. Well, great. I'm right up the hall to the left," said Gibbs.
Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi published an op-ed in USA Today on Monday. Americans showing up at town hall meetings to protest Congress' rush to enact legislation that would put the government in the business of running health-insurance plans are "un-American," they said.
"These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views -- but of the facts themselves," wrote Pelosi and Hoyer. "Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American."
Considering the source, that's about as laughable as, say, members of Congress actually reading a bill before they vote to increase the national debt $787 billion.