While the House and Senate conferees have agreed on what the stimulus bill will look like in final form, the public may very well have to wait for President Obama to sign it to get a chance to read it. The House rules require that all conference reports (which is how the bill will be reported to the floor) be made publicly available for 48 hours before consideration. Yesterday, the House Rules Committee waived that requirement to allow the House leadership to bring the bill to floor immediately. And we still have not seen the bill, and "we" includes many, many members of Congress.
Elana Schor at TPMDC explains that reporters and congressmen are being denied access to the text of the bill:
Who was excluded from the process? Everyone outside the private negotiating table, regardless of their party. One senior Democratic senator, when I asked him at 6pm last night whether one of his proposals was retained in the final stimulus, replied without blinking that no one knew what was in it yet. This was hours after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had announced the "deal" before TV cameras.The House expects to vote on the stimulus bill today! Well, expected is now the more appropriate word. According to CongressDaily Breaking News, House Republicans just claimed on the floor that they have not been allowed to see the bill, to which some Democrats replied that they don't need to see the bill since the Republicans will vote against it anyway. The Speaker postponed consideration of the bill after this outburst.
Reporters who asked for a summary of the agreed-upon deal last night were told to wait, because "policy staff ... are drafting final bill language tonight," according to a House Democratic memo. Aside from a top-line number of $789 billion and a battle over school construction, the nitty-gritty details of the stimulus were publicly unavailable.
But it is not just Republicans who are being denied access to the bill. Reporters, bloggers, and the general public are being denied an opportunity to review one of the most important pieces of legislation sent through Congress in a long time. Anyone who wants should express that, whatever the partisan reasons for denying access to the bill, the American people deserve a right to review this legislation. Slamming it through without letting anyone see, save for 7 or 8 congressmen and some staff, is not fair to the public or the legislative process.
This is a dangerous practice that the Democrats ran against in 2006 and now, in the majority, are unfortunately using to block their opposition's attacks. The majority Democrats should maintain their previous position on running the most open and honest government by allowing the public to review this legislation. Anything less is unacceptable.