There is currently some wacky legislative maneuvering going on with H.R. 2454, the cap and trade energy bill, that puts a serious spotlight on the failure of Congress to make bills properly available. According to the New York Times:
House Democratic leaders late last night released a revamped, 1,201-page energy and global warming bill (pdf), clearing the way for floor debate Friday even though it remains uncertain if they will have the votes to pass it. The House bill posted on the Rules Committee Web site has grown from the 946-page version adopted last month in the Energy and Commerce Committee. Sources on and off Capitol Hill said the bulk of the changes largely reflect requests from the eight other committees that also had jurisdiction over the bill, including the Ways and Means Committee and Science and Technology Committee.
The bill is only available online at the House Rules Committee and is reported as "text of the bill to be introduced." Despite having a bill, H.R. 2454, that has been reported out of the Energy & Commerce Committee and discharged by eight other committees, there is now, suddenly, a new bill that is almost 300-pages longer -- but it's still being considered as H.R. 2454. Stay with me here.
Here's the timeline:
Introduced - 5/15/09
Reported with amendments out of Energy & Commerce - 6/5/09
Discharged by Education & Labor and Foreign Affairs Committees - 6/5/09
Discharged by Financial Services, Science & Technology, Transportation, Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Ways & Means Committees - 6/19/09
Placed on the Union Calendar, Calendar No. 90 - 6/19/09 (This version is 946 pages)
Submitted to House Rules Committee - 6/22/09, 4:22pm (This version is 1,201 pages)
So, where along the line does the bill suddenly expand by 300 pages? According to the New York Times, the various committee chairs held behind the scenes meetings and hashed out a compromise with no allowance for public input. (What lobbyists were involved in those meetings?) And now we are expecting a Friday vote on a bill that has had no public hearing in a committee with jurisdiction over it and that is not yet available in the main engine of public disclosure, THOMAS.
This raises serious questions about how we expect Congress to disclose their activities to the public. Is a bill posted to the House Rules Committee and not THOMAS truly publicly available? While the bill may be available for 72 hours prior to consideration, the public does not have reasonable access to it. Nor does the public know how the final details were reached.
And that isn't even the worst part. This, apparently, isn't even the final bill. The final bill will be a manager's amendment that will be drafted later this week! From a posting on the House Rules Committee, we know that the deadline to submit amendments is Thursday at 9:30am. And there is talk that this will be voted on on Friday. Thus, the final version of this bill will likely only be available for less than 24 hours.
Sunlight has been advocating for all bills to be posted online for 72 hours prior to consideration. It doesn't look like that is going to happen here. If you think that Congress should read the bills they vote on, you can tell your congressman to both support the Read the Bill resolution, H. Res. 554, and to give the public enough time to read the final version of the cap and trade bill, whenever that is made available.
As Open Left's Chris Bowers says about this process:
[Y]ou don't get to know what is in the bill until it is too late. Further, you get no chances to improve the bill.
This is an unacceptable process and it needs to change.