Continuing their fabulous work fighting for transparency in government, The Sunlight Foundation‘s Nancy Watzman has a series of posts up this week asking that Congress afford the American public a mere 72 hours to read legislation before they take it up for consideration. Her first post recounts how terribly President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus bill violated transparency in government principles:
When the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal on February 11, he said, “Like any negotiation, this involved give-and-take-and if you don’t mind my saying so, that’s an understatement. But the agreement we’ve reached stays faithful to the principles.”
The problem was many members of Congress had no idea what was in that deal. The day after Reid’s announcement, a copy was still not available for them-or for the public. Talking Points Memo reported, “Reporters who asked for a summary of the agreed-upon deal last night were told to wait, because “policy staff … are drafting final bill language tonight,” according to a House Democratic memo. Aside from a top-line number of $789 billion and a battle over school construction, the nitty-gritty details of the stimulus were publicly unavailable.”
The bill language was finally made available at around 10:45 p.m. the night of February 12. The next morning, at 11:15 a.m., the House waived a rule requiring that conference report be made publicly available for 48 hours before consideration. A few minutes later, the conference report was brought up for consideration, about 13 hours after it had been made available online.
At one point, House Minority Leader John Boehner dropped the 1,100-page bill on the floor with a thud, saying, “here we are with 1,100 pages-1,100 pages-not one Member of this body has read. Not one. There may be some staffer over in the Appropriations Committee that read all of this last night-I don’t know how you could read 1,100 pages between midnight and now. Not one Member has read this.”
Despite the complaints, the House voted that same day largely along party lines to approve the bill, 246 to 183. The Senate followed the same day, passing the legislation by a vote of 60 to 38. President Barack Obama signed the legislation on February 17.