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WHEN IT COMES to health care legislation, experience has shown that speedy action by Congress can be dangerous.

That is why we are relieved that Senate leaders agreed last week to put the brakes on patient protection legislation until Congress returns to Washington in September after its summer recess and has a chance to carefully consider the proposals.

It was frightening enough to watch the House of Representatives last month debate its version of patient protection legislation without many -- perhaps most -- members having had time to even study what they were voting on.

Indeed, a frequent and fair complaint that members voiced on the House floor was that they had received the actual text of the bill they were voting on only hours before the vote.

Given the hurried drafting of this legislation and the even more rushed consideration of it, would it be any surprise that the legislation might be severely flawed?

We don't know if that in fact is true. But given what is at stake -- rules affecting hundreds of thousands of health care plans covering roughly 160 million people -- finding out after the fact strikes us as a disastrous way to put together legislation.

But that, at least until now, has been what Congress has been doing on patient protection legislation. The traditional and logical way Congress generally considers important legislation is to hold hearings to debate the pros and cons, vote on the measure at the committee level and then -- if the bill has moved forward -- schedule votes by the full House and Senate.

This vetting process -- if not altogether perfect -- at least gives a greater chance for not only the public to be heard, but also to assure there is sufficient time to spot problems and correct them.

But that logical consideration of the patient protection bills has not occurred, despite the potential impact of the measures. Congressional leaders elected to skip committee consideration of the bills and send them straight to the floor.

The haste with which these measures are being considered makes us wonder if legislators have a different agenda in mind. Rather than making a serious effort to pass legislation, it seems that each party is using health care patient protection -- a potent political issue -- to bash the other side.

Indeed, many of the remarks made by House Republicans and Democrats when that body considered patient protection legislation had more to do with blasting political opponents than the merits of the measures.

All of this isn't to say that we don't believe that some type of patient protection legislation isn't needed. We have seen enough evidence that some type of federal intervention is needed to protect enrollees from managed care plan abuses.

Ideally, legislation should be put off until next year. But if not, we hope that Senate leaders and their staffs from both parties can get together during the long recess and carefully assemble a bipartisan bill. That would give members more time to review it before scheduling a vote by the full Senate.