From the stream of news coming from Congress about the budget, one might think that committee meetings and legislation on federal spending would be easily accessible online. That’s often not true.
For example, the legislative text for four major appropriations bills are not yet online despite their apparent approval by both the full Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday and the relevant subcommittees prior to that. The four missing Senate bills are: Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2012; Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012; Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2012; and Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2012. The public’s only chance to see the legislation is after all the important decisions have been made. By comparison, the House generally makes legislation considered by committees available to the public prior to votes.
None of the Senate committee reports for these bills are available online, either, except for the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, which is on THOMAS. The reports explain the decisions by appropriators and often provide significant guidance on how money will be spent.
Senate Appropriators do release streaming audio of subcommittee markups, although the audio feed isn’t always reliable. The House, by contrast, will live stream video of its markups, but only when the committee finds it convenient; it often does not broadcast meetings at all. This goes against the spirit — and likely the letter — of the new House Rules passed by the 112th Congress.
Unfortunately, the best way to look at the legislation and reports in a timely way is often by using expensive private news services. Congress owes the public a better explanation of what it’s doing.