Reps. Baird and Culberson introduced legislation today that would shine more sunlight on the most fundamental work of Congress. Their bill, H. Res. 554, would require that all non-emergency legislation be posted online, in its final form, 72 hours before consideration. The bill is not a panacea for all that ails Congress, but if enacted, it will stave off many congressionally created debacles before they become law.
Most citizens, for example, would have supported amending the economic stimulus bill to remove the provision allowing AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses. The average person probably would have preferred to let the judicial system work rather than have Congress give immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that participated in a controversial wiretapping scheme. Workers hoping to retire on their 401(k) investments might have liked to have some serious analysis of whether credit default swaps ought to be regulated. And just about everyone benefit from a check on questionable and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.
Those situations, and many more, arose because they were included in legislation made public only hours before being debated. Only a handful of congressional staffers and possibly a few well-connected lobbyists knew exactly what was in bills that, in turn, cost taxpayers billions of dollars, protected industry giants and wreaked havoc on our economy. No one else—not most members of congress, the media, interest groups or the public—had time to read the bills, analyze the ramifications and fix the problems before Congress voted.
Now, by introducing H. Res. 554, Reps. Baird and Culberson have taken an important step towards greater transparency and a chance to improve the dialogue between members of Congress and the people who elected them. The bill has a long way to go before this straightforward fix becomes law. For starters, it needs a lot more support in Congress. We’ve made it easy for you to call your representative and ask him or her to cosponsor the bill.
A more transparent government begins with providing citizens with the opportunity to tell their elected officials what they think of a piece of legislation before it comes up for a vote. A few months ago, the Sunlight Foundation launched ReadTheBill.org to help garner support for this sensible idea. Since then, we have had thousands of individuals and dozens of organizations support the concept that before enacting sweeping legislation with controversial or expensive provisions, all bills should be available online for 72 hours. The Baird-Culberson bill could turn this concept into law. We commend them for their foresight and hope many of their colleagues soon follow suit.