If you knew where to look, you might have been able to find the massive FY 09 Omnibus Appropriations bill that was passed by the House yesterday. (Check here.) It was posted online for about 48 hours before it was debated. But is that really enough time for consideration of a bill that the House passed -- spending some $410 billion of our money? And here's the rub: It's hard to imagine but posting it online for 48 hours was actually good news.
Because the bad news is that doesn't always happen. The $789 billion Stimulus Bill, various Bailout Bills, bills restricting civil rights, bills expanding government surveillance of U.S. citizens and bills establishing safety requirements for medical devices all have been rushed through Congress in a matter of hours. Bottom line: Members of Congress vote without really knowing what they are voting on. Members of the public rarely have an opportunity for meaningful input into pending legislation.
Today, the Sunlight Foundation announces an initiative to make sure everyone has the chance to Read the Bill. ReadtheBill.org calls for legislation to be publicly available online for 72 hours before debate begins. Check it out, and sign the petition demanding your representatives Read the Bill.
ReadtheBill.org is an effort to create a more transparent government by bringing together a bipartisan collection of individuals and groups, luminaries and every day people to support and promote this commonsense idea. Instituting a 72 Hour Rule will give lawmakers and citizens alike an opportunity to consider and debate bills with full knowledge and consideration of the implications of the legislation, and with considered feedback from the public. It will also do away with the disparity and uncertainty that makes some bills available while others are cloaked in secrecy.
We like to think it might result in better legislation.
The founding fathers intended that the United States Congress be the most deliberative body of its kind. But it is axiomatic that a bill that no one has read cannot be meaningfully discussed or debated in Congress. The founding fathers also created a representative democracy. And so it follows that our elected legislators can't adequately represent their constituents' views if their constituents don't have the chance to weigh in on a bill because they have never seen it.
ReadTheBill.org is nothing short of an effort to give Congress the chance to be a truly deliberative and representative democratic institution.