Hse reforms–HRes688

Legislation — Agenda

In January 2007, ReadtheBill.org respectfully requests that members of Congress do the following:

(1) Cosponsor the “72 hours online rule” reform resolution expected to be re-introduced in early 2007 by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA)..
The top legislative priority for ReadtheBill.org is to get cosponsors for this resolution. During the previous, 109th Congress, this reform was H.Res. 688 and it attracted 36 cosponsors, including 34 Democrats.

H.Res.688 — Cosponsor drive

Urge your Representative to cosponsor H.Res.688

Is your member a cosponsor?

The top legislative priority for ReadtheBill.org is to get more cosponsors for H.Res. 688. Authored by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), it was introduced Feb. 16, 2006 and has attracted a bipartisan group of more than 25 cosponsors.

H.Res.688 would establish the 72 Online rule. This resolution would require posting legislation and conference reports on the Internet for 72 hours before floor consideration.

H.Res.688 would amend the standing rules of the House to update and strengthen the existing three-day rule in the House and close various loopholes. It would replace the obsolete, unenforceable, routinely-waived three-day rule it with the modern, tough, endorceable 72 Online rule. Unlike the three-day rule, the 72 Online rule would apply even in the final week of a congressional session, when the worst abuses occur.

Summary of Provisions (HTML)MS Word version
Full text of the resolution and other info (on the Library of Congress Thomas system)
Standing Rules of the House of Representatives (What H.Res.688 amends — see rules 13 & 22 only)

Official list of cosponsors (on the Library of Congress Thomas system)
Opponents of passage of H.Res.688

Arguments for H.Res.688
Arguments against H.Res.688 (and ReadtheBill’s counterarguments)

Tell your Representative to cosponsor
(Action page)

H.Res.688 — Arguments For

H.Res.688 – Arguments in favor

THE PROBLEM: Congress will not read the bills
The world’s oldest democracy is endangered when lawmakers frequently do not read proposed laws before they make them. The facts are well known: Congress routinely rubber stamps huge mystery bills in the middle of the night, clueless of their content or cost. Generally, the more important a bill is, the less likely it will be read. This hurts Americans in several ways:

Waste, deficits and corruption — Outrageous giveaways and ineffective programs escape accountability and bulk up the budget. Big government gets bigger, and the taxpayers end up owing a national debt of $8,000,000,000,000. Lack of scrutiny invites sneaky earmarks and midnight riders that tempt a few members of Congress to plain old corruption.

Half-baked legislation — Furthermore, unread bills result in half-baked legislation. No wonder the Medicare prescription drug program is such a mess — nobody read the bill.

The problem is harder to solve because current rules are confusing and obsolete. The House still has a three-day rule rule on the books requiring proposed legislation be available to members for three days. But the House waives this rule routinely. Senate rules are fuzzier but the result is the same. According to the Congressional Research Service, it isn’t even clear what a “day” is because there are “legislative” days and “calendar” days. Sometimes the legislation given to the members isn’t the final text. Finally, a few committee chairman procrastinate and delay their bills until the final days of the session, then ask the House to waive all the rules in the name of urgency.

These rules will never be enforced. Current rules make legislation available only to members of Congress, so it’s an insiders game in which members are under severe pressure. Until the public is reading the bills on the Internet, enforcement of the 72 hour rule will lose to pork barrel favors and partisan politics. Posting the legislation on the Internet makes it much harder to waive the 72 hour rule without a good reason.

THE SOLUTION: “72 Hours of Online Sunshine”
Republican New York Times columnist David Brooks calls this idea “the best reform they could do.” Here’s how it works:

Practical — Thousands of business leaders, state and local officials, journalists and interested citizens will read the bills and sound the alarm if they find any shady provisions. Americans can listen, decide for themselves and tell Congress if they are concerned. All floor consideration (not just conference reports) of all regular legislation would be covered — regular laws, and spending and tax bills. But declarations of war and other special resolutions would be excluded. Even for regular legislation, a two-thirds majority could waive the 72-hour rule when needed in rare cases. Posted text would be the full, official versions, and the signed versions of conference reports. There would be no exceptions for the end of the session when the worst bills try to rush through.

Enforceable — With the legislation online, unjustified waivers will be protested by thousands of people, not just a handful of reform-minded members of Congress.

Non-ideological — This mainstream idea has also been endorsed by ROLL CALL, the local newspaper of Congress. Libertarians like it. Progressives like it. The sunshine will scare off many crooked lobbyists and protect politicians against the temptation of corruption.

Inevitable — Americans do almost everything else on the Internet — buy mutual funds, plan weddings and run businesses. Why shouldn’t America’s democracy be modernized a little so that citizens can see proposed legislation? This will happen. The question is which politicians will lead this reform and get the credit.

Instead of requiring that legislation be available to members only, H.Res.688 would require that it also be available to the general public via the Internet. H.Res.688 tracks the three-day rule exactly by making no change whatsoever in the exclusions for House procedural rules, Declarations of War legislation, etc. Finally, it would close loopholes by requiring that posted text be the full, official versions, and the signed versions of conference reports. The obsolete “last six days rule” would also be repealed to set the tone that the 72-hour rule will apply at the end of the session when the worst abuses occur.

U.S. House — reform campaign

Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) has introduced a resolution to implement the 72 Online rule:

ReadtheBill.org: Pass Baird’s Resolution by Election Day (press release)

H. Res. 688 — Summary of Provisions

H.Res. 688 — Summary of Provisions

Introduced by Rep. Brian Baird on Feb. 16, 2006
Establishes the “72 Online” rule in House rules

Full text of resolution

“To require that legislation and conference reports be available on the Internet for 72 hours before consideration by the House, and for other purposes.“