NEWSROOM — New stuff Citizen Watchdogs of Web 2.0 (6/30/08)’s Jeremy Caplan reports from the Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York City. He quotes’s DeGennaro on the power of collaborative online bill analysis, and notes the organization’s efforts to have bills posted online for 72 hours before floor debate. “The Citizen Watchdogs of Web 2.0”
by Jeremy Caplan, June 30, 2008

Perhaps even more significant than analyzing bills after the fact is being able to influence debate beforehand. “The holy grail of this new movement is to develop the technology for collaborative analysis of bills online,” says Rafael DeGennaro, a longtime congressional staffer and former president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. An example of the impact of legislative annotation took place as far back as a year ago, when conservative blogger N.Z. Bear posted a PDF version of the 2007 Senate Immigration bill, helping opponents of the bill rally around particularly controversial details that might otherwise have escaped their attention. The text of the bill had been closely guarded prior to the leak the weekend of May 20, 2007. Were it not for the online annotation, the bill might not have been widely analyzed before the debate scheduled for May 21. DeGennaro says the immigration bill’s ultimate defeat demonstrated the impact online legislative annotation can have.

DeGennaro now runs, a nonpartisan startup trying to build consensus around the idea that bills should be posted on the Web for 72 hours before Congressional debate begins, so the public can assess and respond to pending legislation.

WSJ: Tackling ‘Monster’ Spending Bills (10/30/07) is targeting the now common practice of rolling the bills into massive “omnibus” spending measures, in a 50-page report being released this morning entitled “Monsters in Congress: How Republicans and Democrats allowed 13 inherently unreadable omnibus appropriations bills to devour deliberative democracy.”

Wall Street Journal “Tackling ‘Monster’ Spending Bills”
by Susan Davis, October 30, 2007


Here’s what they found: Congress enacted 14 “omnibus” or “minibus” appropriations bills between 1982-2005, with each containing between 2-13 individual spending bills, and most total over 1,000 pages — 13 “could not possibly have been read by a human being before floor debate in Congress,” the report says. While the House has a rule that conference reports must be available for three days before passage, it’s regularly ignored. When combined, House members had about 65 hours total to read 12,113 pages in the 13 bills. The Senate was slightly better with 126 hours to read the same amount.

The report is timely because Congress is in the same jam this year, with House and Senate Democrats eyeing an omnibus spending package because they have yet to send a spending bill to President Bush.’s report also includes 70 quotes from House members and senators acknowledging that they had no time to read the bills, including this one from Steny Hoyer, who is now the House Majority Leader. “This clearly is not how our appropriations process should work, with this House rolling nine separate appropriations bills into one and giving the Members just a few hours to review it…It is, I judge, at least two feet tall…an extraordinary document,” he said of the 2005 omnibus approved when Republicans controlled Congress.