While we're still waiting to see the draft copy of the House Rules from the incoming majority today, we're now hearing some of the provisions that will be included in the draft.
Many of these provisions are just what Sunlight has asked for in our proposed Rules reforms.
First and foremost, it looks like a 72 Hour Rule will be included in the House Rules. "In Electronic form" will be the way the online requirement is phrased, and all bills will need to be available to the public "in electronic form" for three calendar days before a vote. This will be a huge victory for the ReadtheBill movement, and for transparency in the way the House considers legislation.
Also, committees are going to be posting far more information online. It's going to become much easier to follow along as committees pursue their work, and to know what's going to happen, online, before it happens. Committees will be required to post notice of markups three days in advance, post committee votes online, post amendments online, post disclosures about witnesses who testify, and webcast hearings and markups.
Again, many, many of these changes are contained within our Rules recommendations, and we're elated to see so many of them included in this Rules draft. While the devil is always in the details, and implementation of these kinds of changes can be tricky, these are the kinds of changes that can change the way citizens relate to the legislative process online.
Update: Also worth reiterating: the Office of Congressional Ethics will continue its operations in the 112th Congress. Even though Boehner opposed its initial creation when it was first formed, the independent Ethics watchdog will continue its vital work. This is fantastic news.
Update 2: Here is Speaker-Designate Boehner's tweet about the 72 Hour Rule: http://twitter.com/#!/GOPLeader/statuses/17584517178986496
As House Republican leaders examine their options for House reforms, the 72 Hour Rule, or ReadTheBill, is always near the top of the list.
The form this reform will take, though, is far from clear.
Daniel recently gave details on the technical limitations a 72 Hour rule will face, noting that bills need to be shared better -- on THOMAS, in a machine-readable format, and available in bulk -- in order to maximize reuse online.
In addition to those technological hurdles, procedural hurdles also stand in the way of an effective 72 Hour Rule.
Presumptive Speaker Boehner has already taken one step past Speaker Pelosi on the ReadtheBill front, by committing to putting all non-emergency legislation online for 72 hours. The form this reform takes, however, will determine its strength and reliability.
Here are some procedural complications that could weaken a 72 Hour Rule.
Is it a rules change? It's unclear, so far, whether the 72 Hour Rule will be codified as a change to the House rules. Most focused advocacy for the ReadtheBill effort has focused on a particular proposal, H.Res 554 in the 111th Congress, which is primarily a rules change. If Republicans don't pass a rules change, then the rule will continue as an informal commitment from the Speaker of the House, with an uncertain future. A future Speaker wouldn't have to undo anything to walk away from it, and neither would Boehner, should he choose to.
What about amendments? H.Res. 554 punts on amendments. The bill actually contains Sense of the House language, basically asserting that major amendments should be online for an appropriate period of time. While this may seem like an oversight, further reflection reveals that requirements for amendments to be online can be tricky. Imagine if all bills were online for 72 hours before floor consideration, and all amendments were online for 72 hours before the same floor consideration. If that's the case, then no one can amend the bill they're reading, since the deadline for amendments would have already passed. The solution here may be to require bills to be online for 72 hours and amendments online for 24, but there's no clear consensus that that's the right solution. And that brings us to the second problem relating to amendments.
What about manager's amendments? Even if all amendments were online for one day before floor consideration, it's likely that large, contentious bills would get enormous managers amendments introduced at the last possible moment (whenever that moment may be). If it's just a day, that may still be a very short period of time to read and evaluate what may be an enormous and complex pile of compromises. Worse, these last minute changes are often the most contentious features of the bill -- they're the things being negotiated, after all. A strong, reliable 72 hour rule will eventually need to address managers amendments, and the complex negotiations they inevitably contain.
Depending on one's ideological relationship to any legislation in question, those negotiations can represent anything from valuable bipartisan compromise and careful deliberation all the way to vote-buying and backroom deals. One's feelings about the 72 hour rule also follow a similar pattern. How else do Michael Moore's meditation on the USA PATRIOT Act and the Republican opposition to the health care bill end up on the same script?
The Rules Committee Can Waive the Rules. Most bills are passed in the House under special rules, which govern debate, and can waive any House rule. Even rules about the Rules Committee can be waived by a rule reported out of the Rules committee and passed on the floor. Republican leadership, especially Eric Cantor, have been vocal about what they term a return to "regular order," but the Rules Committee is an extension of the prerogatives of the Speaker, one of the defining characteristics of the House. If the Senate is deliberative and slow, the House is decisive and authoritative, and the authority is the Speaker's, often expressed through the majority party's disproportionate control of the Rules Committee.
Self Executing Rules can change bills. Similarly, the special Rules from the Rules Committee can contain language that changes bills, essentially functioning as an amendment. Both parties have objected strongly to the other party's use of such rules, but, to our knowledge, no one has suggested a viable mechanism for reigning in this prerogative of the Rules Committee.
Conference Reports may be tricky. Most legislation will need to pass both chambers of Congress and go through a Conference Committee before heading to the President's desk. 72 hours for the initial House version would be nice, but without a chance to see what comes out of Conference, we won't know what's in the final law until too late. This can be tough, because each chamber can make changes to what comes out of the conference committee, and send the legislation back and forth. Should every iteration, if there are several, be subjected to 72 hours anew? We faced this difficulty before, and hedged, saying that conference reports and any major changes that follow should be online for 72 hours.
Is the Rule powerful? In addition to the fact that House Rules are waivable, some House Rules are simply ignored. A powerful 72 Hour Rule (like H.Res. 554) will change what is in order, effectively empowering the minority to raise a point of order against an offending motion. Without such an appeal to procedure, the requirement would be far weaker. Changes to the Congressional Record, for example, are supposed to only be typographical or grammatical, but Members regularly make far more substantive changes to their remarks as they appear. This is against the Rules, but essentially, no one cares. Even the best rule will need popular expectations to back it up.
This is actually true for all of the complications we've identified. Even the most well meaning 72 Hour Rule will be a seductive sacrifice for any Speaker who is faced with a potential legislative achievement. These are probably only some of the ways a public posting requirement could be evaded. Congressional floor procedures are incredibly complicated, and governed not just by Rules, but by complex precedents. The real arbiter of acceptable congressional procedure will ultimately always be the electorate. No one else can, or even should, have that kind of power of Congress.
Even so, we're hoping Speaker Boehner and Republican leaders choose to codify a strong, effective 72 Hour rule, and lives up to his promise, even when it's inconvenient, as he has readily acknowledged it will be.
On the eve of the midterm elections and with the 111th Congress all but wrapped up with its business, Sunlight has been brainstorming a list of bipartisan, “low-hanging fruit” of transparency ideas that the House and Senate can hit the ground running with as soon as they come back into session next year. One of those proposals is to make all amendments filed in the Senate immediately available to the public online.
The American public has the right to know what their elected officials are debating and voting on in Congress. However, as the current process stands, Senators and their staff are granted privileged access to information about some amendments while the general public is kept locked out.
Amendments are often filed to bills during debate on the Senate floor. While these amendments are available for immediate internal Senate review, the public often must wait until the amendments are published in The Congressional Record the next day to see just what they do to the legislation. In a lot of cases, the Senate may have already voted on one of these amendments the day before -- in a way, sidestepping public scrutiny. Whether the change is an addition of a single word or a sweeping manager's amendment that rewrites large sections of a bill, this presents a missed opportunity for constituents to review the amendment language and contact their representatives with any concerns.
Conversely, the Senate may also end up voting on an amendment that was filed and printed days earlier in The Congressional Record, which makes the language of the amendment difficult to find.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced a resolution to address this very issue in June of this year without much fanfare or attention from the press. But quiet as its introduction was, the resolution's impact is significant in that it would bring the Senate in line with policies already long in place in the House.
Senator Grassley’s resolution mirrors larger reform efforts to ensure underlying legislation is made available to Congress and the public for a reasonable amount of time before it is voted on. It stands to reason that the amendment process should be made as transparent as possible as well. And, like the 72 hour rule that Sunlight has continually pushed for, the Senate could act proactively on revising its amendment process by enshrining this change in any new rules package it adopts for the 112th Congress. Whether as a stand-alone bill or incorporated as a rule, Senator Grassley's proposal is an easy step in the direction of a more transparent and accountable Senate.
In each of the last 3 political cycles, transparency has been a campaign issue. In 2006 we saw ethics and disclosure issues lead directly to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act reform package, in 2008 transparency was a major tenet of the Obama campaign, and now in the 2010 midterms, candidates across the political spectrum have government reform platforms with different takes on government transparency.
Our recent House recommendations look at the rules that control transparency in the House, and offer detailed recommendations for opening Congress. We’ve renewed our call for a rules change to require all bills to be posted online for 72 hours before floor consideration, something Sunlight has long advocated for.
In a few years, the 72 hour rule has gone from a perennial complaint to a serious leadership issue -- the sort of attention the issue deserves.
Over the last year, Speaker Pelosi has repeatedly committed to posting major legislation online before floor consideration, and stuck by those promises. 72 hours online has become the new normal.
CBS News has apparently posted an advance draft of the House GOP platform, with some 72 hour language:
Read The Bill:We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives.No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public.Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.
The language throughout the “Pledge to America” platform is fascinating to me, because it frames process reforms as a move away from the privileges of the Speaker, toward a more decentralized House.
The House of Representatives continues to move further away from its roots as a deliberative body, toward acentralized power structure where the majority does whatever it needs to win at all costs
A House with less centralized control won’t necessarily be more likely to post bills online before they come to the floor, though.
The only ways to get the House to publish bills online before they’re voted on are through the Speaker’s discretion, Rules changes, or through public expectations. Commitments from leadership are a step forward, but a rules change is far more decisive. And leadership commitments and rules changes both depend on the public caring -- without that, the rules can be ignored, and leadership will just go back to rushing bills to the floor.
The House-Senate conference committee on financial regulatory reform legislation has begun its work with the goal of completing the bill and sending it to the President before the July 4th recess. As Chairman Dodd said, “It is our intention that this conference be done as openly as possible. Not only do we want people to know how we are proceeding, people have a right to know.” That sentiment must extend after the conference. Before Congress votes, the final financial reform bill must be online 72 hours.
Even if the conference itself is fully transparent, citizens, journalists and lawmakers should have the opportunity to examine the changes to legislation and raise questions and concerns about the bill while it can still have an impact. In 72 hours, any citizen, advocacy organization, analyst or media entity has time to review and assess the impact of the legislation, mobilize others in support or opposition, and take any action they believe appropriate.
Sunlight has long supported H. Res. 554, a bill that would mandate a 72-hour rule for all non-emergency legislation. But, even without rule-changing legislation being passed, Congress has realized the importance of giving the public 72 hours to review numerous important and controversial bills, including the health care reform bill. The public deserves the same opportunity with the financial regulation overhaul.
The public should not accept excuses from Congress as to why they cannot make the bill publicly available for 72 hours prior to a vote. The House passed its regulatory reform bill in December of 2009 while the Senate approved its bill weeks ago. Providing three more days for the public to review and digest the legislation before a final vote will not cause markets to crash, retirement funds to be depleted or banks “too big to fail” to shutter their doors.
Join us in our effort to ensure transparency of the financial reform bill online for 72. Call your Representatives in the House and Senate and ask them to demand that the financial regulatory reform bill is online for 72 hours before a final vote. And join us in the fight for more transparency by signing Public=Online pledge.
Sunlight hasn’t been around nearly as long as that song -- it was first recorded in 1961 and we opened our doors in May of 2006 -- but for us 2009 was a very good year. We have you, an amazing staff and boards, and our generous investors to thank for that. Hardly a day went by when a new idea wasn’t hatched, tested or dumped, when a blog item wasn’t posted, when an idea for how to visualize data wasn’t tossed around. The best ideas survived and thrived in the creative, collaborative (and yes, sometimes chaotic) culture Sunlight has nurtured for the past 3 and a half years. We are excited about how far we have come and that we are poised for even bigger strides in the next decade.
A few highlights from this year from my point of view.
OpenCongress.org-- our joint project with the Participatory Politics Foundation --launched its most comprehensive site redesign mid-year, improving usability of its tools and clarity of data presentation. In addition, it integrated new useful sources of data and feature sets to make it even easier for individuals and organizations to track and share the best info about their interests and, as result of the redesign and new features, and hot issues like health care and financial industry reform, OpenCongress has experienced its most-ever sustained traffic levels this year. In fact, in August 2009, shortly after the launch of the redesign, it appeared that OpenCongress became the most-visited government engagement Web site in the U.S., and perhaps in the world. And wait til next year -- if you think OpenCongress is a useful site, imagine the same kind of web-based resources rolled out for your state in 2010 based on state legislative data.
Apps for America Contests. Sunlight held two very successful contests this year resulting in the creation of 100 new apps based on government data. (Yes, this data can actually be made interesting and useful for ordinary mortals.) These contests were hugely important to the development of a strong and engaged Sunlight Labs community and for demonstrating an interest in government data. The community exploded reaching over 1,200 participants. Check out some of the wonderful apps if you haven’t seen them already.
The Great American Hackathon was held on December 12-13 just before Sunlight took off for its well-deserved winter break. The Hackathon -- run by our Labs team -- was a decentralized event held at over 20 venues across the country and its purpose was simple -- to get developers to meet each other and to work on new open source open government projects.
Transparency Corps.We launched Transparency Corps this year -- Sunlight’s answer to the question we often are asked: ‘How can I help?’ We ran several campaigns on that platform and expect it to become even more active in ‘10. We parsed the Kentucky State Legislature manually, worked with Open New York, collected the number of votes each member of Congress received and ran two earmark-related campaigns. All in all, it resulted in a contribution of 662 volunteer hours for the Sunlight Foundation and 228 hours for partners, and the completion of 8,312 individual tasks. Wow!
Mobile Apps. In the last half of 2009 we developed apps for the iPhone and the Android. The Android app, ‘Congress’, has received over 2,000 downloads which is significant for the Android marketplace. The iPhone app, ‘Real Time Congress’ just received approval and we plan to formally launch it the first week of January, 2010 We also built an overlay of Recovery.gov data on the LayAR augmented reality mobile app. This move into the use of augmented reality to show the usefulness of online disclosure of government information has sparked the interest of many. Fairly obviously, expect lots more along these lines in the next year.
Congrelate. Sunlight Labs built Congrelate as a way for people to view, sort, filter and share data about members of Congress and their districts. The Labs compiled data from Congress, the Census, OpenSecrets.org, GovTrack and other sources to let users manipulate the data and see how they relate. Congrelate allows users to select what data they would like to see, add it to a ‘sheet’ then filter and sort through it easily. Congrelate will get renewed attention in 2010 with new data sets added and an improved UI.
Transparency Camps. Sunlight hosted two unconferences this year -- one here in DC and one at Google HQ in Mountain View. Through events like this, and our Transparency Breakfasts and Transparency Happy Hours, Sunlight is helping to build new relationships that will hope will create and galvanize a transparency community. We hope you’ll join in these events as we plan more for the coming year.
House (and Senate) Expenditures Online. As a direct result of Sunlight’s suggestions, on November 30, the House published their expenditures reports online for the first time. Sunlight had long advocated for such a move, and devoted a section of our Transparency in Government Act (drafted in 2008) to the issue. (Senate reports will be forthcoming in 2010.) Sunlight quickly crafted an online database of the newly released information, since the House reports were released in a PDF document (boo…..) rather than a searchable database. (File this one under the category of ‘If Congress won’t do 21st century style transparency we’ll show them how to do it.’)
Read the Bill. Technology makes it possible for anyone to review legislation before it’s considered and tell their representative what they think of it. In 2009 Sunlight began calling for posting all legislation online for 72 hours before its considered by either the House or the Senate. Now thanks to our efforts to heighten public awareness around this, Congress can no longer talk about a piece of major legislation without a reporter asking, ‘will the final version of the bill be online for 72 hours?’ Sunlight has helped to change the conversation and the way the public is thinking about transparency even when transparency laws or regulations have yet to pass. We’ll keep pushing this forward in ’10 to make sure that every bill is available on line before it’s considered by Congress.
Redesigning Government series.In 2009, Sunlight launched an ongoing ‘redesigning’ government series -- making mock-up redesigns of GSA, FEC, EPA, FCC and Supreme Court sites, and others. This work resulted in many conversations with each of the agencies about their Web sites and how the agencies could improve the ways they make data available to the public. We even crowd-sourced testimony we presented to the Federal Election Commission with details for their consideration. We think that was first!
Real Time Investigations had an incredibly successful year, using Sunlight and grantee-sponsored tools to push the envelope of transparency, and using shoe leather reporting to find out what the data can tell us about who owes what to whom, how and on what government spends its money. Hundreds of investigative posts were made to the site. Sunlight’s Reporting Group wrote 11 major stories using data from the Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker alone. This team was also responsible for training more than 1,250 journalists and bloggers in 2009 an activity that will pay off handsomely as more data comes on line. Next year expect to find many of these training resources online.
Party Time. Sunlight’s Party Time site now contains more than 6,700 fund-raising invitations and it has become a valuable resource for journalists, bloggers and advocacy groups. In particular, we saw an increase in outside groups using the data to do their own complex analysis. Everyone can follow the money after it’s raised, but only Sunlight gives you an introduction into real time political fund-raising.
The Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker was launched this year, a joint project with ProPublica. The site digitized, for the first time, information from disclosures filed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA, which requires lobbyists for foreign governments to reveal a wealth of information about their lobbying activities, including the dates and subjects of their contacts with members of Congress, their staffers and executive branch officials. The Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker makes more than 13,000 records searchable by lobbyist, client, person contacted and issue raised. The site has been searched 163,104 times by media organizations, citizens and even congressional staff. We will continue this project into 2010 with ProPublica.
There was a lot more. Sunlight worked closely with the Administration to help move them in the right direction on the Open Government Directive and their lobby reform initiatives. We are happy to see our fingerprints in many aspects of what was announced by the White House in late December. So too, Sunlight worked with many players on the Hill to convince them to begin to open up Congressional information. We've begun to explore how transparency is practiced -- or not -- at the state level too. At the end of the year we were hard at work on several major legislative initiatives to be introduced in January of 2010 that would dramatically improve Congressional transparency.
None of the above speaks to the thousands of blog posts written at Sunlight, Sunlight Labs, Open Congress, Real Time Investigations, or on the Party Time websites, nor the stunning visualizations that accompanied and highlighted many of those posts (think ‘a picture is worth a 1,000 words'), nor the hours of conversations with elected officials, their staff and administration officials, as we all come to grips with how technology can change how we get access to information and what the public can do with it. Our work on SubsidyScope, the Pew Charitable Trust project for which we are building a database of government subsidies, garnered tremendous kudos for its design and ease of use as the first sectors were released. There are a number of soon to be released projects on which we spent hundreds of hours of development time this year – new tools that will make it easier for journalists, bloggers and citizens to make use of data in easily understandable ways.
2010 will be an incredible year for us. Lots of plans are underway. Some I’ve mentioned above, and Clay Johnson, Labs director detailed a number of them including figuring out how to handle the glut of data that government will make available under its Open Government Directive and how to enhance it with state and local government data too; mashing important ‘influence’ and ‘spending’ data sets together so it will be available with a single search; widgets to make following your lawmaker’s campaign contributions and earmarks (and other activities) very easy; launching a new major new campaign to drive public demand for more -- more transparency, more data, and a more open government. And always on our list is making all this information more easily available for reporters, bloggers and online citizens like you. We’d love to have your ideas of what you’d find useful. Please leave them in the comment section below.
It's looking extremely likely that Congress will take up debate of six massive appropriations (read: "spending") bills this week by combining them into one big omnibus bill and trying to pass them all at once. Assuming that does indeed come to pass, it's imperative that the House and Senate allow members of Congress, the media, and the public the necessary time to understand how our money is to be spent by putting the entire omnibus bill online for at least 72 hours before it's debated.
The year is winding down and for Congress that means it is time to pass the final versions of bills known as conference reports. Over the years, conference reports have been the biggest offenders in their timely availability for lawmakers and the public to read. Since 1999, nearly 80% of all conference reports were voted on in the House of Representatives without being available for at least 72 hours prior to floor consideration.
Conference reports are the product of negotiations between the House and Senate after each chamber has passed different versions of the same bill. These reports contain the various compromises made between the two chambers of Congress.
In 1970, Congress passed the Congressional Reorganization Act of 1970, which required all committee and conference reports be made available to lawmakers (note: not the public) for three days prior to consideration on the floor of either chamber. This requirement was established in both the House and Senate rules. As evidenced by the recent decline in availability, the rule is subject to be waived.
In the House the decision to waive this rule is made by the House Rules Committee. The Rules Committee has jurisdiction over nearly all legislation before it comes to the floor for consideration. Their job is to establish the rules for debate of a particular bill or conference report. This includes deciding which rules to waive for consideration.
The earliest data immediately available (via thomas.loc.gov) is from the 93rd Congress (1973-1974). This Congress rarely waived the new three day holdover rule on conference reports. Only 25% of conference reports considered in the House were available to lawmakers for fewer than 72 hours. The seventies marked a period where regular congressional order was held in higher esteem.
The 97th Congress (1981-1982) was the first Congress to send more than 50% of conference reports to the floor of the House for consideration without providing the 72 hour holdover period. In total, the three day holdover rule was waived 60% of the time. This instituted a period in Congress where fidelity to the three day holdover rule alternated between midterm election Congresses providing less availability (97th, 99th, 101st Congresses) and presidential election Congresses providing more availability (98th, 100th Congresses).
In the 102nd Congress (1991-1992) this period came to an end. Varying factors including a declining respect for congressional institutions and rules, the Gulf War and a recession led to a dramatic increase the waiving of the three day holdover rule for conference reports in the House. A full 73% of all conference reports considered in the House were not made available for at least 72 hours prior to consideration. The next Congress saw a brief respite and a return to sub-50% numbers for conference report availability. Then came the massive Republican victory in 1994.
Regular order had been in serious decline for some time in the House. By the mid-1990s, the number of days in session had collapsed from the highs of the 1970s and the majority increasingly used the rules process -- including waiving the three day holdover rule -- to stymie the minority's ability to participate. The insurgent Republicans capitalized on these faults to attack the Democrats as institutionally corrupt. In 1994, the Republicans swept the Democrats out of power, but quickly walked back their agenda of restoring regular order. This soon became most evident with the three day holdover rule.
More than 60% of the time during the two Congresses (104th and 105th) when Newt Gingrich served as Speaker of the House conference reports were not made available for at least 72 hours prior to consideration. Looking at the situation today, this would be commendable. For in the 106th Congress (1999-2000) the way Congress was run changed.
In 1999, Texas Congressman Tom DeLay rose to the position of House Majority Whip in the Republican leadership. DeLay had a take-no-prisoners sense of governing and began to make the House reflect his confrontational, unapologetic style. To DeLay, legislating was a war. The less the minority Democrats knew the better. Fewer and fewer bills and conference reports would be made available for lawmakers to see prior to floor consideration.
In the 106th Congress, 75% of all conference reports were available for less than 72 hours prior to consideration. In the 107th Congress, that number went up to 78%. Then the 108th Congress shot up to 87% and the 109th Congress, the most recent Republican Congress, saw 82% of conference reports made available for less than 72 hours. These numbers are astonishing and became part of the Democratic criticism of the Republican majority.
Just like the Republicans in 1994, Democrats capitalized on a series of corruption investigations and the majority's disrespect for institutional order and minority rights to win the 2006 midterm elections. While the Democrats did not make the situation surrounding the availability of conference any worse, as the Republicans did when they came to power, they have not made it any better. The 110th Congress (2007-2008) waived the three day holdover rule and allowed 75% of conference reports to come to floor for consideration without being available for at least 72 hours. So far, for 2009, that number stands at 80%.
As is the case throughout the history of Congress, once a process is begun by one party to consolidate power -- in this case, the refusal to allow the minority to see legislation in a reasonable amount of time before consideration -- the incoming party does not reject the same process. It is an unfortunate truth that makes it all the more difficult to change behavior in the future. In recent months, public pressure has come to bear on Congress to not only reverse this trend of considering bills without 72 hours for lawmakers to read both bills and conference reports, but to provide 72 hours for the public to review both bills and conference reports.
An awful lot has happened between April 2009 and now, and one of the most important developments on Capitol Hill and among the public has been that Congress can no longer talk about a piece of major legislation without a reporter asking, "will the final version of the bill be online for 72 hours?"
Earlier this week, John Wonderlich wrote about the promised 72 hour online posting of the House health care bill and that the fulfilling of that promise is setting a new benchmark for transparency -- all major legislation should be available online for at least 72 hours before consideration. Last night, House Democrats posted the final Manager's Amendment to the health care bill to the House Rules Committee web site (you can see it here), signaling that they are ready to bring the bill to a vote in 72 hours. This is yet another acknowledgement that the public and lawmakers are entitled to review all important pieces of major pieces of legislation for at least 72 hours prior to consideration.
A Manager's Amendment is a partial substitute for the underlying legislation that often includes many last minute compromises to gain support from lawmakers on the fence. There is no required procedure for the public disclosure of Manager's Amendments, but most are posted with the list amendments to be considered on the Rules Committee web site, usually the day before consideration.
While the proposed 72 hour rule written into H. Res. 554 (the Read the Bill bill) does not cover amendments to bills, the decision to provide adequate time for the health care bill Manager's Amendment is highly commendable. These long amendments are farther reaching in scope than other amendments and amount to an extra-final version of legislation that is not recognized in most people's mental image of "How A Bill Becomes A Law." Acknowledging that the bill's language should be available at all stages for at least 72 hours before action is taken is an extremely important step in the right direction.