The 72-Hour Rule Gets a High Profile Endorsement


Today House Minority Leader John Boehner endorsed the idea of a mandatory 72-hour review period for all major spending legislation. He noted the Sunlight Foundation’s advocacy for such a rule. (see video below)

The 8000 individuals who have signed our Read the Bill petition and the dozens of high profile endorsements we have garnered for the concept speak to the growing support for the commonsense solution. To us, it is axiomatic that if all non-emergency legislation were posted online in a searchable format at least 72 hours before consideration, the legislative process would be transformed because members of Congress would know what they were voting on before they voted. A 72-hour rule would give those outside the Capitol and K Street a chance to understand legislation and voice ways to improve it. Reporters would have meaningful opportunities to explain legislation to the public. Membership organizations, trade associations and nonprofits would be better able to serve their members by being able to review, analyze and explain legislative proposals. Corporations, small business owners and labor leaders would know how legislation might impact workers or their bottom line. Individuals would read bills on issues that are important to them and become more active participants in our democracy.

We appreciate that this commonsense idea is finally getting some high profile attention. We aren’t so naïve as to think that congressional Republicans aren’t engaging in a little partisan gamesmanship with their sudden embrace of an idea that has been around for some time. They weren’t exactly carrying the banner for the cause when, for example, they were in the majority and Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. Debate on that bill, which dramatically expanded the federal government’s ability to spy on its citizens and altered long-held constitutional protections, began as soon as the bill was introduced. Translation: Members voted for (or less often against) the bill without having any idea of its breadth, depth or impact.

And the list goes on—omnibus spending bills with billions of dollars in spending, a bill that deregulated the financial sector and gave rise to the risky behavior that has shaken our economy, and of course the economic stimulus package were all debated without members of Congress or the public having had the chance to read them. These critical pieces of legislation and their sometimes dire results demonstrate all too convincingly that the issue of putting bills online for 72 hours is too important to become a victim of partisan sniping and finger pointing. Let’s all just admit that both parties slip controversial provisions and wasteful spending for pet projects into legislation when they hope no one is looking.

Putting bills online for 72 hours is not a panacea. But allowing for a few days for everyone to read vital legislation it is a crucial step in improving the legislative process. And if the process is better, the resulting legislation will be better too.

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  • Joe Kihn

    72 hours is the bare minimum. Anyone, including the president, to attempt it in less time is not deserving of the public trust nor are they qualified to be in congress. I cannot wait fo 2010 and 2012.

  • John Thacker

    I see that with the Waxman-Markey climate bill, the very idea of reading the bill is regarded as silly nasty delaying tactics. Though the committee has promised to hire a speed-reader to read the bill aloud as fast as possible.

    • That’s reading the bill into the record — aloud. They have a unanimous consent vote to dispense with the reading of every bill, cause no one wants to sit there for an hour or two or three or more listening to a bill on tape. This is common practice. To demand that a bill be read aloud is an acknowledged delaying tactic. I thought the speed reader was a pretty clever way to poke fun at the oft-times preposterous legislative process. Either that or the congressmen have been drinking martinis at lunch.

  • John Thacker

    Of course, this, like many other procedural reforms, is something that the minority party, regardless of party, always pushes for. Most of them get abandoned pretty quickly after the situation turns and the minority becomes the new majority.