72 Hours: The New Normal


In each of the last 3 political cycles, transparency has been a campaign issue. In 2006 we saw ethics and disclosure issues lead directly to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act reform package, in 2008 transparency was a major tenet of the Obama campaign, and now in the 2010 midterms, candidates across the political spectrum have government reform platforms with different takes on government transparency.

Our recent House recommendations look at the rules that control transparency in the House, and offer detailed recommendations for opening Congress. We’ve renewed our call for a rules change to require all bills to be posted online for 72 hours before floor consideration, something Sunlight has long advocated for.

In a few years, the 72 hour rule has gone from a perennial complaint to a serious leadership issue — the sort of attention the issue deserves.

Over the last year, Speaker Pelosi has repeatedly committed to posting major legislation online before floor consideration, and stuck by those promises. 72 hours online has become the new normal.

CBS News has apparently posted an advance draft of the House GOP platform, with some 72 hour language:

Read The Bill:We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives.No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public.Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.

The language throughout the “Pledge to America” platform is fascinating to me, because it frames process reforms as a move away from the privileges of the Speaker, toward a more decentralized House.

The House of Representatives continues to move further away from its roots as a deliberative body, toward acentralized power structure where the majority does whatever it needs to win at all costs

A House with less centralized control won’t necessarily be more likely to post bills online before they come to the floor, though.

The only ways to get the House to publish bills online before they’re voted on are through the Speaker’s discretion, Rules changes, or through public expectations. Commitments from leadership are a step forward, but a rules change is far more decisive. And leadership commitments and rules changes both depend on the public caring — without that, the rules can be ignored, and leadership will just go back to rushing bills to the floor.