Victory mostly...

With the legislation that was passed it is far more likely we will now be able to read bills before they are considered on the house floor. To make sure this actually happens regularly we need to stay on top of our lawmakers to make sure they're following through.

Groups Call for 3 Day Rule

Sunlight has long called for all bills to be posted online for 3 days before they're considered on the floor. So our disappointment with recent failures to post bills online for 3 days should be no surprise.

Today Sunlight and a number of other groups are sending a letter (below) to Speaker Boehner, calling on him to renew his commitment to posting all bills online for 3 days before their consideration.

The groups signing the letter are:

  • Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest
  • Demand Progress
  • Government Accountability Project
  • iSolon.org
  • National Taxpayers Union
  • Participatory Politics Foundation
  • The Sunlight Foundation
  • United Republic
Orgs Call on Speaker Boehner to Uphold "Read the Bill" 3 Day Pledge

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Boehner's 72 Hour Pledges, Condensed

Throughout the last year, we've repeatedly pointed out that Speaker Boehner repeatedly pledged to put all bills online for 72 hours before they're voted on, reflecting Sunlight's call and the ReadtheBill.org campaign.

Boehner's pledge was unambiguous and repeated often -- all non emergency bills for 72 hours. Unfortuantely, this has become a pledge that has been broken often, most recently last week with the bills rushed through the House.

For easier reference, here are the commitments on video, edited into one shorter clip.

These commitments matter. Remember when Republicans derided Pelosi for the healthcare bill, and claimed that bills were being "rammed down" their throats? Similarly, remember when (mostly) Democrats were outraged that the PATRIOT Act wasn't read before it was passed?

When we're pushing for important transparency reforms, like having all bills online for 72 hours before floor consideration, the minority party is often a natural ally. Each time the majority changes hands, there's usually a rush to reform processes, and promises to run a more accountable ship. Of course, many of these promises are kept, and we make progress.

But the toughest promises to keep are often the most important, and this Congress has a very poor track record on legislative secrecy. When the most important bills are written by a tiny number of negotiators, and then foisted on the rest of Congress at the eleventh hour, we can expect dismal approval ratings and mistrust to rule the day.

While such discord in Congress is more likely under divided government like we've got now, perhaps Boehner (and Obama) should revisit the visions they set for their current roles before they began -- Obama on Change.gov, and Boehner in the Pledge to America.

They should remember that when they run up to the last possible second to negotiate deals between party leaders, it's not a zero sum competition. It's not whether Republicans or Democrats gain ground, or are seen as taking the more reasonable position. When the 72 hour expectation is flaunted, our trust in government suffers, as does our sense of merit in policymaking, and our sense of self governance.

Leaders from both parties have largely turned their backs on transparency in policymaking. Whether it's the perceived necessity of SuperPACS, or the acceptance of the ridiculous secrecy of the SuperCommittee, neither party has found solid ground to discuss transparent process.

Let's hope they revisit their past rhetoric, because without solid footing, we'll just keep sliding downhill.

Having legislation that is meaningfully public isn't a luxury, it's a requirement. A closed Congress is an abused process. Our leaders should remind themselves of the times they've agreed with that sentiment.

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New 72 Hour Rule Bill Introduced

On Friday, Rep. Peters introduced a new bill, (H. Res. 230), to carry the Read the Bill mantle.

The bill would require all legislation that hasn't been reported out of committee to be posted online for at least 72 hours.

The measure, also cosponsored by Reps Quigley and Polis, comes on the heels of the new House Rules for the 112th Congress, which require three calendar days for legislation. This rules change (from this January) was a significant improvement over what came before, even if there are many avenues for evading a full, 72 hour public airing of legislation.

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Take Action: Call Speaker Boehner and ask him to keep his word on Read the Bill

The House voted on a bill yesterday, which, while posted to the Internet on Tuesday morning, was not available for 72 hours or more. This violated public pledges by Speaker John Boehner and other House leaders to afford the public this amount of time to read bills prior to consideration.

Call Speaker Boehner now and ask him to honor his pledge in the future to keep bills online and publicly available for 72 hours before consideration.

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Boehner's Many 72 Hour Pledges

On March 17, 2010, Congress pushed for a vote to defund NPR. It's a bit surprising that the Read the Bill pledge was subverted by the majority not providing 72 hours of online, public review of the defunding bill after Speaker John Boehner's many public pledges that specify that 72 hour time frame. Here's a selection of the many, many times that Speaker Boehner pledged 72 hours of public review for all bills.

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Does the NPR Defund Vote Violate 72 Hour Pledge?

The House is set to vote today for a bill that would forbid funding for National Public Radio. The bill, while posted to the Internet on Tuesday morning, has not been available for 72 hours or more, which would appear to violate a pledge by Speaker John Boehner to afford the public this amount of time to read bills prior to consideration.

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Read the Bill Reality

The House is about to adopt rules changes for the 112th Congress that will bring Congress closer to Sunlight’s goal of ensuring the American public has the opportunity to read all bills before they are considered on the House floor. The Rules committee may have overstated the breadth of its accomplishment—and made liberal use of ellipses—when it stated that the new rule provides, “it shall not be in order to consider a bill or joint resolution which has not been reported by a committee until the third calendar day…on which such measure has been publicly available in electronic form.” The actual language of the rule doesn’t go quite that far. But, the changes to the House Rules, combined with the new majority’s pledge to ensure a more transparent Congress, should make it far more likely that the public will be able to “Read the Bill” before it is considered on the House floor.

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House Rules Transparency Victory

While we're still waiting to see the draft copy of the House Rules from the incoming majority today, we're now hearing some of the provisions that will be included in the draft. Many of these provisions are just what Sunlight has asked for in our proposed Rules reforms.

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Evading Read the Bill

As House Republican leaders examine their options for House reforms, the 72 Hour Rule, or ReadTheBill, is always near the top of the list. The form this reform will take, though, is far from clear. Daniel recently gave details on the technical limitations a 72 Hour rule will face, noting that bills need to be shared better -- on THOMAS, in a machine-readable format, and available in bulk -- in order to maximize reuse online.

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Read The Bill 2.0

People have become increasingly aware that their elected representatives often do not read the legislation they vote upon. Sometimes there’s not enough time between the introduction and adoption of legislation for anyone but the bill’s sponsor to grasp the contents. Other times so many amendments are added that few people -- if any -- fully understand the final document. In the haste to build support and pass bills, provisions are inserted unnoticed that contain unrecognized flaws and political pay-offs. The public and legislators alike are disconnected from the legislative process intended to serve their needs.

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