Throughout the last year, we’ve repeatedly pointed out that Speaker Boehner repeatedly pledged to put all bills online for 72 hours before they’re voted on, reflecting Sunlight’s call and the ReadtheBill.org campaign.
Boehner’s pledge was unambiguous and repeated often — all non emergency bills for 72 hours. Unfortuantely, this has become a pledge that has been broken often, most recently last week with the bills rushed through the House.
For easier reference, here are the commitments on video, edited into one shorter clip.
These commitments matter. Remember when Republicans derided Pelosi for the healthcare bill, and claimed that bills were being “rammed down” their throats? Similarly, remember when (mostly) Democrats were outraged that the PATRIOT Act wasn’t read before it was passed?
When we’re pushing for important transparency reforms, like having all bills online for 72 hours before floor consideration, the minority party is often a natural ally. Each time the majority changes hands, there’s usually a rush to reform processes, and promises to run a more accountable ship. Of course, many of these promises are kept, and we make progress.
But the toughest promises to keep are often the most important, and this Congress has a very poor track record on legislative secrecy. When the most important bills are written by a tiny number of negotiators, and then foisted on the rest of Congress at the eleventh hour, we can expect dismal approval ratings and mistrust to rule the day.
While such discord in Congress is more likely under divided government like we’ve got now, perhaps Boehner (and Obama) should revisit the visions they set for their current roles before they began — Obama on Change.gov, and Boehner in the Pledge to America.
They should remember that when they run up to the last possible second to negotiate deals between party leaders, it’s not a zero sum competition. It’s not whether Republicans or Democrats gain ground, or are seen as taking the more reasonable position. When the 72 hour expectation is flaunted, our trust in government suffers, as does our sense of merit in policymaking, and our sense of self governance.
Leaders from both parties have largely turned their backs on transparency in policymaking. Whether it’s the perceived necessity of SuperPACS, or the acceptance of the ridiculous secrecy of the SuperCommittee, neither party has found solid ground to discuss transparent process.
Let’s hope they revisit their past rhetoric, because without solid footing, we’ll just keep sliding downhill.
Having legislation that is meaningfully public isn’t a luxury, it’s a requirement. A closed Congress is an abused process. Our leaders should remind themselves of the times they’ve agreed with that sentiment.