Another Proposal to Read the Bill, but is the Timing Right?


Today, Senator Bunning introduced S. Res. 307, a resolution that would require legislation to be publicly posted online, in its final form, for 72 hours before consideration by the full Senate and in committee. Sunlight supports the spirit of the legislation, but we are concerned that that the 72-hour rule may have become a political tool in the debate on health care reform. By introducing his bill in the midst of the heat and passion surrounding health care, Sen. Bunning may have lost a chance to lay the groundwork to build a bi-partisan coalition around a 72-hour rule.

The Sunlight Foundation supports a 72-hour rule as a way to fix legislation—to give the public or their trusted agents (reporters, membership organizations, employers) the opportunity to digest legislation while there is still time to fix it. We do not support efforts designed to stall the work of Congress indefinitely. Proposals that would require members to sign a sworn statement attesting to the fact they have read every word of every bill; suggestions that weeks or months be allowed for bills to be read; and proposals that bills be read out loud, word for word on the House or Senate floor seem designed to bring Congress its knees rather than make its work more transparent.

What is new about the Bunning bill is that it brings the work of committees into the 72-hour rule conversation. Unlike H. Res. 554 or the letter on the 72-hour waiting period 8 senators sent to Majority Leader Reid, the Bunning resolution applies to legislative matters in committees and subcommittees. Congressional committees have been somewhat overlooked by the reform community in terms of their importance when it comes to crafting legislation, so it makes sense to provide the public with access to bills while they are still in committee—not at the expense of providing 72 hours online before consideration on the House or Senate floor, and also with assurances that the legislation can still move through committee without unnecessary and politically motivated delays.

Committee transparency was addressed on the other side of the Capitol today as well. As my colleague Paul Blumenthal wrote, Republican Minority Leader John Boehner is planning to introduce a resolution that would require House committees to post “within 24 hours the actions taken” by the committees.

Genuine efforts to change House and Senate rules to give the public time to read bills and provide greater transparency in committees are appreciated and necessary.