So, it looks as though the cap and trade bill will continue to sail toward a Friday vote despite the final version not being actually finalized. As I noted yesterday, this process prevents both the public and the lawmakers on Capitol Hill from having adequate time to review a critically important bill. The hurried process also spells danger for the many activist organizations and other actors seeking to have an effect on the end result. How can you lobby when you don’t know what you’re lobbying on? And how can you get your supporters to call Congress when you don’t know what to tell them?
Now some of these actors may already have a wing-tip or birkenstock in the door with their lobbyists, but that doesn’t do much for activating their membership. If no one knows what a bill will contain until 24 hours prior to consideration it is remarkably difficult to get a message to your representative to express your position on how they ought to vote. Even more complicated is to organize a membership around amendments to support or oppose. And this is, in many ways, why this process occurs. It stymies public interaction and voices, whether independent of a larger group or not.
Now this does not solely apply to the party in power now. Historically, leadership aims to control the pace of legislation. And why wouldn’t they? In Congress, time is just another tool of power.
In this case, time is being used to prevent citizen action and to reduce outside pressure on potentially wayward lawmakers. If the leadership wants to pass a bill and fears that calls from constituents to certain lawmakers may place the vote in jeopardy, rushing the bill to the floor will prevent an inundation of calls, especially from members of organizations organized around a particular bill.
If you are the Sierra Club or the Chamber of Commerce, you’re getting squeezed right now. (The same thing happened with groups organized around the FISA Amendments Act last year.) For the general public that wants their voice heard, you’re getting squeezed even harder.
This is a critical reason for Congress to establish a 72 hour rule. Not only does Congress need to read their bills. Not only does the public writ large deserve a chance to read the bills. But so do advocacy groups that organize and drive much of the public support or opposition to specific pieces of legislation.