A new effort launched this week demanding that members of Congress do the most basic function expected of them–read the bills they are voting on and listen to the concerns of constituents before they cast their vote.
The effort–launched by the Sunlight Foundation at ReadTheBill.org–calls for the Congress to post all non-emergency bills and conference reports online for 72 hours before debate begins. This would allow the legislature, the public, the media, and advocacy organizations the chance to review the contents of bills before they are voted on and to make informed decisions.
ReadTheBill.org is calling for people to sign a petition in support of the this change in policy. Additionally, it has collected endorsements from a variety of watchdog and government transparency organizations including Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics.
Economic Stimulus Bill Public for Only 13 Hours Before Vote
The economic stimulus bill–one of the costliest (at $787 billion) pieces of legislation–was likely not read by most legislators casting a vote on it. The 1,100-page bill was available for only 13 hours before it was passed, meaning that there was little time for legislators–let alone the public–to consider its contents. In fact, Congress even waived a rule requiring that it be available for 48 hours before a vote was taken. This gave the media, constituents, and members of the Congress little time to view the contents of the bill.
Bills Frequently Rushed Through Congress
Unfortunately, bills are frequently rushed through Congress, with members and the public often left in the dark about their specific contents. ReadTheBill.org has assembled a number of “case studies” where this happened. Many of their examples are some of the most controversial bills passed in recent years.
For example, the Congress passed the Wall Street Bailout bill with the final text available for only 29 hours. This left little time to pour over the complex legislation, possibly paving the way for the lack of transparency and accountability that the bill has been criticized for. Similarly, the bailout of Fannie and Freddie Mac–a 694 page bill–was available for only 19 hours.
Complex legislation dealing with privacy and civil liberties has also been rushed through in the past, most notably the USA PATRIOT Act that was never really made available before the vote (only two printed copies were available). Legislation governing warrantless wiretapping was also pushed through Congress, available for just 17 hours before it was voted on.