Rafael DeGennaro, founder and president of ReadTheBill.org (an early Sunlight grantee) has picked up on twittering between Rep. John Culberson and myself regarding the need for legislation to be posted on line in advance of consideration for 72 hours. Because faxes — what Raf sent to Culberson’s office — are such a pre-Web way of communicating, I thought I’d post the whole letter to Rep. Culberson here, and tweet it too.
If you think this is a good idea, call your own representative and ask them to support H.Res. 504 too.
The Honorable John Culberson
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
RE: H.Res. 504 as solution to unread bills
Dear Representative Culberson:
I noted with enthusiasm your recent twittering with Ellen Miller, Executive Director of the Sunlight Foundation, about the continuing problem of members and the public not having time to read bills before floor debate. I spoke briefly on the phone about this two weeks ago with Lindsay Smith of your staff, and tried to follow up with her again this week. Thank you for speaking up about this problem. We agree with you that this practice must end.
As you know, clause 4 of House rule XIII (legislation) and clause 8 of rule XXII (conference reports) contain the current three day rule. Under both Republican and Democratic House majorities the three day rule has been routinely waived by waiving “all points of order”. Often this is done for the mere convenience of committees that have failed to produce timely legislation that can bear scrutiny. Recent examples include the Farm Bill, Iraq supplemental and FISA bill. But there are many other instances over recent decades. For example, my organization released a report in October 2007 showing that no human could possibly have read 13 of 14 omnibus appropriations bills passed under both Democratic and Republican congressional majorities and presidents during 1982- 2004. Another particularly egregious example was the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, the largest entitlement expansion in a generation.
As a solution to the problem you raise, ReadtheBill.org Foundation respectfully urges that you cosponsor H.Res.504 the Baird resolution to establish a “72 hours online” rule. H. Res. 504 would strengthen and modernize the rules of the House to require that legislation and conference reports be posted online for 72 hours before floor consideration. H. Res. 504 updates the existing three day rule (established in 1970) and closes loopholes. Note that H. Res. 504 tracks the three day rule exactly by making no change in the handling of House procedural rules, Declarations of War legislation, etc. H.Res. 504 is by far the best drafted reform resolution yet introduced on this topic. It amends the House rules thoughtfully, and is not just tacked on to existing House rules. Because it is a resolution, it only need pass the House to come into force – so it requires no involvement at all by the President or Senate.
Politically, this is a practical, non ideological step that appeals to Americans of all political perspectives. Rep. Brian Baird has spoken out on this issue for several years. H.Res.504 was introduced June 20, 2007, with six bipartisan cosponsors, and has continued to attract a very diverse group of cosponsors. Because H.Res.504 is sponsored by a member of the current House majority (Democrats), members of the current
House minority (Republicans) might consider cosponsoring this resolution instead of supporting a competing one. When a Democrat proposes this reform in the 110th Congress, that really says something.
The problem of lack of time to read bills is an aspect of the way Washington, DC works under both parties, not a sin unique to either party. From my organization’s research, I conclude that House Democrats generally have had a better record of allowing time to read bills during the 110th Congress, but lately seem to be gradually drifting toward some of the same bad habits as the previous majority.Therefore, House Republicans who routinely supported waiving the three day rule in recent congresses may wish to consider frankly and humbly acknowledging the errors of the past as they advocate reforms.
I attach a summary of the provisions of H.Res.504. This document, and related information such as arguments for and against H.Res.504, is available at www.readthebill.org under “legislation.”
Your tweets seemed to question whether 72 hours is long enough. ReadtheBill.org strongly supports 72 hours because it is consistent with the existing three day rule. Also, 72 hours is long enough to find and fix the worst problems. On the Internet, 72 hours is long time, especially when everyone can plan on having it. But it is also short enough to enforce. A committee can hardly complain when it can file on Monday and go to the floor on Thursday. Longer reading times might invite more requests for waivers (which might get more sympathy) and are probably not realistic at this time.
Of course, any rule can be waived by the House, as has been done under both Republican and Democratic majorities. Therefore, since 2006 ReadtheBill.org also has urged members of the majority party to vote against such waivers of the current three day rule. Meanwhile, H.Res.504 (and its almost identical predecessor last Congress) is one of the best ways for minority members to highlight this problem and to support a concrete solution. Ultimately, the key will be increasing the political cost of waiving this or any other rule. For example, during the 109th Congress Republicans paid a political price for extending a voting time excessively and neither party can now extend vote times without repercussions. We need to get to the same point with the Three day rule and/or “72 hours online rule.”
ReadtheBill.org is a national, nonprofit organization that promotes transparent process in government without supporting or opposing any policies on substance. ReadtheBill.org is nonpartisan and philosophically independent of the two major parties. See www.readthebill.org for more info.
If you or your staff have questions or would like to meet about this matter, please contact me. Thank you again for speaking up about this problem, and for your consideration of H.Res. 504.
Founder & President