Searching for Clarity in the Five Day Pledge

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Today’s Washington Times has a review of President Obama’s pledge to post legislation online before signing it, where Press Secretary Gibbs is paraphrased:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the clock starts ticking when a link is posted to bills when they are in their final version, such as a conference report, even if they haven’t passed Congress.

Here’s (I believe) the exchange from Friday:

Q Robert, on the signings today, I’m wondering, the President had pledged to put bills up on the Web for five days before he signed legislation. And is that just pretty much out the window?

MR. BURTON: It’s been five days.

MR. GIBBS: I think we posted conference reports several days in advance. I can get you the exact days.

Q The conference reports?

MR. GIBBS: The conference reports that after they’ve voted on become the gross legislation that’s delivered here that the President ultimately signs that becomes public law.

Q So you’re — is that a finalized version of it that went out or —

MR. GIBBS: Well, a conference report, as you know, is an unamendable piece of legislation that has to be approved by both Houses, language has to be simultaneous, it gets sent down here, and we sign it. So if a conference report is — if something is delineated as a conference report or if there’s not a conference committee and there’s a separate piece of legislation, if the Senate passes a bill — if the House and Senate pass different versions of a bill and the House agrees to accede to the Senate version, then the Senate version might be put up before the House votes on it. Once they vote on it, both Houses have passed identical legislation, and it comes down here.

Q So it’s effectively a finalized version. It just hasn’t —

MR. GIBBS: It’s not effectively — it legally is, yes.

Q Okay.

Compare that to this post from WhiteHouse.gov from January 20th:

One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.

The only other update from the White House has come in this post, which says:

The President remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House will continue to publish legislation expected to come to his desk online for public comment as it moves through Congress.

A little clarity would go a long way here. The White House will either start to fulfill campaign promise, whether it’s meaningful or not, or they won’t. The least acceptable choice, though, is to continue to redefine online, or bill.

For a clearer version of the pledge, here’s the version Politifact cites:

“Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them,” Obama’s campaign Web site states . “As president, Obama will not sign any nonemergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days.”

That’s pretty clear. Posting a link from WhiteHouse.gov to THOMAS of a conference report that is expected to pass doesn’t cut it.

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