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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.

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Revised April 11, 2006 info |at| read

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