After one week of markups on the health care reform bill, we are already seeing that pressure on Congress does bear fruit. Unlike the cap and trade bill negotiations, all three committees held open markups, streamed online with some, but not all, documents disclosed to the public. While nothing we have seen is ideal — leaving aside the Energy & Commerce Committee markups, which I’ll get to momentarily — the movement is towards greater disclosure at the committee level, where input can be most important. The Education & Labor Committee’s tweeting of votes on amendments and the availability of two discussion drafts from different committees allows the public with greater knowledge of the bill’s ever changing status. Overall, we are seeing earlier attempts at transparency in the legislative process.
The Energy & Commerce Committee, led by Henry Waxman, should come out for special praise. This committee is providing greater access during the bill formulation process than any other. The committee web site contains streaming video of the markups, archived video of past markups, a discussion draft for proposed changes to the bill, PDFs of every amendment and vote information on each amendment. The committee is also holding markups over a four day period, rather than holding one or two days of markups, allowing the public a greater ability to have a voice in the process. This isn’t a one-off for Energy & Commerce either. During their markup of cap and trade legislation, the committee posted all amendments to the web site along with votes. The other committees with jurisdiction over the cap and trade bill didn’t even hold hearings. Other committees should look to Energy & Commerce as a great example in committee transparency.
The one committee left to look out for is the Senate Finance Committee. As noted earlier, Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus plans to announce his plans for health care reform this week. Senate Finance is considered the crucial broker on any health care bill and should be watched with a close eye. (We’ve taken it upon ourselves to look at committee member connections to lobbyists.) The same transparency that we ask of the relevant House committees should be asked of the Senate Finance Committee.
Right now, Congress isn’t where we want them to be, but we are seeing progress. Bills are still being rushed through Congress and committees do not disclose nearly enough information to allow citizens to have a meaningful impact on the sausage-making in Congress. That being said, the pressure that you are putting on Congress to read their bills and provide full disclosure of legislative material to the public is having a real impact. Keep the pressure up at ReadTheBill.org and demand real transparency along the full legislative path of each and every bill.