House Votes to Stop Printing Bills -- After Printing Hundreds of Copies of That Bill

The House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill to stop the mandatory printing of congressional documents -- unfortunately for the sponsor, the government had to print another 1,000 pages in order for the House to consider the proposal.

In yet another example of how unintentionally amusing Washington can be, the Government Printing Office was required to provide Congress with 325 copies of the three-page bill, according to the office of author Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y. The GPO typically prints between 325 and 475 copies of any bill or resolution, and this one was no exception.

Lee spokesman Matthew Harakal acknowledged the frustration in having to print more copies in order to stop the printing of more copies. But he said if all goes well, the practice should soon draw to a close. The bill would order the GPO to stop the excessive printing and instead provide digital copies to Congress via the Internet.

"This is just common-sense legislation," Harakal told "Businesses everywhere, families everywhere are going paperless. It's cheaper, it's better for the environment."

The rest of the House agreed, passing the bill in a 399-0 vote.

If the proposal makes its way through the Senate, it will also mark the first victory for House Republicans' YouCut program, an interactive website through which members of the public pick programs for Congress to eliminate. The GOP started the program last year and watched every one of their proposals, including an earlier version of Lee's government printing bill, go down during the last Congress when Democrats were in charge.

But the New York representative earned some bipartisan support for his idea Tuesday.

"Too many bill copies wastes time, trees and taxpayer dollars," Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., said on the floor.

Republicans have previously estimated the bill could save taxpayers $35 million over 10 years. According to Lee's office, the GPO has allocated $7 million for congressional printing costs in 2011, meaning the annual savings from the bill could not be more than that.

But Lee said the proposal would nevertheless lead to "significant savings" every year and should not be dismissed just because it doesn't identify billions of dollars to cut.

"Every dollar counts, every cent counts," he said Tuesday.

According to his office, nearly 3 million paper copies of bills and resolutions were delivered to lawmakers last year. He estimated the government printed about 750,000 pages for the health care law alone.

Lawmakers were careful to note that the bill to do away with these copies is not an indictment of the normally innocuous Government Printing Office.

No offense taken. GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said in a written statement that throughout the agency's history, "GPO has transformed itself numerous times to be as cost-effective and efficient as possible."