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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Give Your Congressperson the Gift of Reading 

Let's face it: hardly anyone in Congress had the time or the inclination to read the massive omnibus spending bill before voting on it, and as a result the horrific last-minute additions that made their way into the text were nearly as plentiful, if not quite as appetizing, as the "meat by-products" in your Big Mac. Apropos of which Josh Marshall is pushing an idea upon which we are only too happy to bestow our most enthusiastic royal endorsement:
Democrats are already pushing for a return to the observance of the rule which mandated that members of congress must be given at least three days to review legislation in its final form before it was called to a vote.

But why stop there? Giving legislators a reasonable opportunity to review a bill before they vote to make it law is the barest of bare minimums, especially now that bills are often coming out of conference in a dramatically new form. But why should only legislators get a chance to look at the bill? Forget the issue of purported centrality of blogs. Why not make bills publicly and readily available (and I emphasize 'readily') for three days before they can be brought to a vote?

I can think of a number of reasons why not to. (I can imagine friends on the Hill sending me long lists of them.) But I'm not sure any of them are good reasons. Yes, it would expose the unseemly work of legislative horse-trading without which successful coalition and law-making may not be possible. A more valid concern is that the 'public' process would be heavily weighted toward single-interest advocacy groups -- pro-choice and pro-life, gun control vs. pro-gun, etc. -- since those are the only ones organized and resourceful enough to act.

But again, are any of those reasons good ones balanced against the public's right to know in advance what their elected representatives are voting on? And, remember, this isn't some abstract issue of transparency. Keeping the contents of legislation not only secret from the public but from legislators themselves kills accountability and makes it far too easy for private interests to feed off the public interest.
It's an eminently reasonable proposal, and we cannot wait to hear the morally-acrobatic objections that are sure to be raised by our betters in the GOP, whose only credo is Getting Away With It. Exposing bills to advance scrutiny would . . . what? "Undermine the public's faith in the legislative process"? (Naah, that one was already used by Jeb Bush to explain why the voters didn't need a paper trail in Florida.) "Infringe on the constitutional powers of the legislative branch"? (Naah, Gonzalez has that one all sewn up for the Executive. If he let Congress horn in on the act, they might demand something radical -- the power to declare war, maybe.)

One of Marshall's correspondents has already remarked on the potential for gridlock -- as if, in a Republican-dominated Congress, that would be a bad thing.

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