72 Hour Rule Momentum

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There were two developments today that should remind people of the importance of giving the public the chance to read and weigh in on legislation before it is debated in Congress. First, Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), John Culberson (R-TX) and Brian Baird (D-WA) filed a “discharge petition” in the House regarding H. Res. 554, a bill that would ensure legislation is online for 72-hours before a vote. The bill has been languishing in the House for many months—years, if you include versions that have been introduced in prior Congresses—and a discharge petition is a way to force a bill to the floor for a vote, if the petition gets the signatures of 218 Representatives.

Sunlight is a champion of H. Res. 554, and we’ve been working to build support for the measure so that members of the public (as well as the press, Members of Congress and their staff) have an opportunity to read legislation while there is still time to fix it. Had there been a 72-hour rule in place before the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, due consideration could have been given to whether the vast expansion of the federal government’s ability to engage in secret searches of U.S. citizens was warranted. Had there been a 72-hour rule in place when Congress passed the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act of 2007, consumer advocates could have warned Members of Congress that the bill included weak safety standards for FDA reviews of drugs and medical devices. Had a 72-hour rule been in place before any omnibus appropriations bill was passed, billions of dollars of wasteful government spending could have been eliminated.

Instead, only a handful of congressional staffers and possibly a few well-connected lobbyists knew exactly what was in those bills, and many others, before they came to the floor mere hours after they were introduced.

H. Res. 554 would help ensure that rushed bills become a thing of the past. If a discharge petition is the only way to get a vote on this piece of legislation, we’re all for it. But, we’d prefer the bill made it to the House floor for a vote through regular order, in a more thoughtful and deliberative manner. We would support a hearing on the issue so that any objections to the bill could be raised and addressed in an open and public forum. We are, after all, fundamentally trying to create a system where better bills become law.

And that leads to the second “Read the Bill” development of the day. The Washington Post editorialized against an effort by “ReadtoVote” to have Members of Congress sign a pledge never to vote on a bill unless they have read every word of it. We agree with much of the sentiment in the Post’s editorial. We don’t want to bring Congress to a standstill. We don’t want to stop legislation in its tracks. We don’t believe every Member of Congress can read every word of every piece of legislation that comes up for a vote. We differ from the good folks at “ReadtoVote” because we put our emphasis on making the bills available online to the public for 72 hours. We put our trust in the public—including the press, interest groups, membership organizations, for-profit and nonprofit corporations and labor unions—and believe that they can digest the bills that truly matter to them and express their opinions to their representatives in Congress. We call for the legislation to be online for 72 hours before debate so that there is chance to fix what’s wrong with a bill before it’s time to vote.

Today’s developments demonstrate that more and more people recognize that rushing significant pieces of legislation is no way to run a country. We expect this issue to continue to gain traction, and we’ll keep working on it, until everyone has a chance to read the bill.

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  • I believe the 72 hour rule is highly desirable. I believe you and the Washington Post are both wrong to oppose a requirement that the Sens. and Reps. read the bill. They represent us and should not vote on anything of which they do not know all the provisions. Bringing Washington to a halt from time to time would probabley be a good thing! They have rushed too many things through in a virtual blackout of info. I am 75 years old, have three computers and am obviously computer and internet literate. However there are millions of intelligent voters that do not have internet access and are not computer and internet literate enough to access it online at the library. They depend (with frequently poor results) on their Sens. and Reps. to know what they are passing and represent them, their values, and their needs. Your system leaves too much power in the hands of unions and special interest groups that have IT depts. and full time staff to push their interests which are frequently wasteful and harmful to the majority of citizens.
    Roy F. Dearmore, B.S. Th.B., M.D., M.P.H.

  • Anne Davis

    I can understand the bill as well as any representative in Congress. The bill will affect my life, and I want to read it. I am very concerned about the secrecy in Washington as well as the rush to vote.

  • I can not believe any responsible representative would ever vote in favor or against a bill that they did not read first.
    Would any representative sign a note or mortgage or promilsory note that they did not read? If so, I do not want them to represent me. That would be the essence of stupidity.

  • I believe that the 72 hour rule is a giant step forward in restoring our trust in Congress and informing the voters of proposed laws in Congress, especially given the fact that we do not receive any timely factual information in the media, with very few exceptions. We wonder just what the opposition to this bill is afraid of the voters finding out about. If this bill fails to pass, the next step will probably be to eliminate reporting on how our Congressional delegates vote.

  • Elaine

    One of the most important and serious questions all of us should be asking is why is there such a rush with the Obama administration and Democrats to pass bills that not only will add trillions of debt that we, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will never be able to repay but also will effect our ability to survive as individuals and a nation?

    It isn’t just an issue of allowing us to read bills ahead of their passage but why in the world are these bills even going forward?

    The agenda is what terrifies me.

  • As our sens. and reps. take the office of taking care of our country and the freedom of the people seem afraid of letting the people know what they are doing with the Bills.
    We can not trust our representatives any more as we once trusted our finance com. to do the best for the people.As many of them have missed managed and taken so much from so many . I feel as every one is for them self and have forgotten why they are in office. If they can not read the bills they should not take the job of voting for we the people.They have no problem taking their pay and insurance for life.
    Who can we trust is the big question in Washington?

    This terrifies me for our country, and my children. It sounds like what happen to Russia when communism took over.

    Wake up Americans.

  • I TOTALLY AGREE WITH EVERYTHING THAT WAS SAID BY: Roy Dearmore, M.D. 10:43 pm on Sep 23, 2009

    I ALSO AGREE WITH:
    Mary Holmes said: “I feel as every one is for them self and have forgotten why they are in office. If they can not read the bills they should not take the job of voting for we the people. They have no problem taking their pay and insurance for life. Who can we trust is the big question in Washington?…Wake up Americans.” 5:00 am on Sep 27, 2009

    I MAY HAVE SOME INSIGHT INTO THE “FEAR OF THOSE WHO OPPOSE THIS BILL”:
    Gary Martens said: “We wonder just what the opposition to this bill is afraid of the voters finding out about. If this bill fails to pass, the next step will probably be to eliminate reporting on how our Congressional delegates vote.” 2:21 pm on Sep 24, 2009–MY ANSWER: ONE OF THE VERY REASONS THIS WEBSITE IS HERE IS BECAUSE OF “GOVERNMENT WASTE.” BY THE TIME A BILL IS FIRST PROPOSED UNTIL IT IS SIGNED BY THE PRESIDENT, THAT BILL IS, VIRTUALLY, UNRECOGNIZABLE. THERE ARE USUALLY SO MANY “PET PROJECTS” (BETTER KNOW AS “PORK” OR “EARMARKS”)THAT HAVE BEEN ADDED BY CONGRESSMEN, THE BILL THAT BEGAN AS A FEW PAGES ENDS AS SEVERAL HUNDRED TO MAYBE MORE THAN A THOUSAND PAGES! AND WHAT WOULD HAVE COST TAXPAYERS JUST THE AMOUNT OF THE ORIGINAL “PROGRAM” THAT WAS INTRODUCED HAS NOW INCREASED BY MILLIONS, BILLIONS, OR EVEN TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS. AND THE CONGRESSMEN AND WOMEN DO NOT WANT THEIR CONSTITUENTS TO SEE WHO IS WASTING ALL OF THEIR HARD-EARNED MONEY!

    BUT I DO NOT AGREE WITH THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE CONCERNING THE FOLLOWING:
    “We don’t believe every Member of Congress can read every word of every piece of legislation that comes up for a vote. We differ from the good folks at “ReadtoVote” because we put our emphasis on making the bills available online to the public for 72 hours. We put our trust in the public—including the press, interest groups, membership organizations, for-profit and nonprofit corporations and labor unions—and believe that they can digest the bills that truly matter to them and express their opinions to their representatives in Congress. We call for the legislation to be online for 72 hours before debate so that there is chance to fix what’s wrong with a bill before it’s time to vote.”–MY ANSWER TO THIS PORTION OF THE ARTICLE AND THE REMAINDER OF MY COMMENTS:

    My tax dollars do not go to “the public—including the press, interest groups, membership organizations, for-profit and nonprofit corporations and labor unions” to FORM, READ, and PASS or NOT PASS bills and laws that are in my best interest. I voted for certain LAW-MAKERS to do that job! AND I ALSO BELIEVE THAT 72 HOURS IS NOT NEARLY ENOUGH TIME TO DO IT! Some of these laws make sweeping changes in our nation: the Health Care Bill, the Energy Bill, etc. These are too important to be just “glanced over!” I do not care if it brings Congress to a standstill for a month, if they come to a complete understanding of what they are voting on.

    BESIDES, IF THE BILLS WERE NOT WRITTEN IN SUCH A COMPLEX MANNER, IT WOULD NOT BE SO DIFFICULT TO READ! That is another issue. What has changed in our government that makes politicians think that the laws must be written in such a way that even the attorneys and doctors in Congress cannot understand the language of the Bill? Could that be the ultimate reason…certain lawmakers do not want the bills to be easily understood? THIS ALSO NEEDS TO BE CHANGED! Even though I DO WANT MY CONGRESSMAN TO READ EVERY BILL HE/SHE VOTES ON, I ALSO WANT TO BE ABLE TO READ EVERY BILL–IF I SO CHOOSE.

    Elaine said: “Why is there such a rush with the Obama administration…” From what I can understand, this “rushing the bills through Congress” has been going on for several years now. I was watching “On the Record” with Greta van Susteren on the FOX News Network this evening, and there was a Congressman on there discussing this same issue. He talked about it being a problem even during the Bush Administration. I don’t know how long it has been around, but both Democrats and Republicans can probably take equal blame.

    There are a lot of people laughing and not taking seriously the Tea-Party movement, the Town Hall meetings, and all those standing up against “Big Government.” Those in Congress who are taking these people lightly, and are up for re-election in 2010, will be looking for a different job. Because these people are not about Party Politics and labels. They want corruption out of Washington, DC. They want Representatives to represent the people not THEIR interests. Look for it, there will be sweeping changes in Washington in 2010!

  • Is there anyone today that can tell you especially from the American Health Administration whether the most important issues are contingent upon actual people currently affected by non-quality health care needs. I hear the debates from house and senate about frivilous things that have some inpact on things that are very insufficent areas of debate. But are they getting the numbers of people correct as to their current condition. Our are they recieving information from blind sources to create a temporary fix to a seemingly longevity condition that no one can see. Now the momentum of this cacus has either got to change in an enriching steady, fast, and more decisive correct way of filling the tight enough boot strap measure of governmental fixtures. And their involvment in it at all. Why don’t they work on a smaller budget at first and use it as a model for future health care needs. The amount seems to shock most people. And reason that is, is because they feel a sense of tearing down those things that are vitally needed at this time. Remember not to tear down the millions of people that are already suffering from non quality life already from a foiled and failing society. Quit blaming government for being dropped this task that may take decades. To even begin to feel affects of their tenure was well worth it . Or maybe some day thier children or their childrens,children will say at the turn of the century this is what our forefathers did for us. Things take time to get correct and those of us now should remember that. The twentyth century were involed of coures with trying to domesticate the people of the world then, and the preservation of National Parks. There was the roaring 20’s thenwar struck again. we have prevailed by a governmental society that has done a tremendous job and it was people like ypu,and I. Dont tear down the those in congress or the senate anymore. They have enough to do without negative input daily.