Publish the text of bills online at least three days before a House vote
Will "ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives."
Sources: GOP Pledge to America
Subjects: Congressional Rules, Transparency
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GOP PLEDGE-O-METER: STALLED
It's not an unfamiliar theme: Politicians don't like keeping promises about open government when a quick political victory is within grasp.
Back in 2009, it was President Barack Obama who signed laws for fair pay, children's health insurance and credit card reforms without first posting the legislation to the Internet for five days. His "sunlight before signing" campaign promise is still rated Promise Broken.
Last week, Republicans fast-tracked legislation to curtail funding for National Public Radio after Internet activist James O'Keefe distributed an edited video that appeared to show an NPR fundraising executive making disparaging remarks about the tea party movement, among other things.
On Tuesday, House Republicans posted legislation to the Rules Committee website. On Thursday, they brought it to the floor and voted for it.
Democrats said Republicans were fast-tracking the legislation to make political points. "Violating their own promises of transparency, the Republican majority held no hearings, no committee action of any kind, listened to no expert testimony, and provided no chance for the American people to weigh in," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee. "Just by saying it is an emergency, apparently, in many minds, it does become one."
Republicans, though, said they were adhering to their own House rules, which state that legislation can't be considered until the third calendar day. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday constitute three calendar days, according to their reasoning.
Still, during the campaign Republicans sometimes referred to a 72-hour rule for posting legislation. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., went so far as to bring a sign to the House floor, quoting Republican Speak of the House John Boehner saying, "I will not bring a bill to the floor that hasn't been posted online for at least 72 hours." (Boehner said that on Fox News in July 2010; and he made similar comments at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2010.)
Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation charged that the NPR funding measure broke pledges to post bills for 72 hours online before consideration, which means before debate begins. And by that measure, the Republicans certainly fell short.
We"re tracking the promise, though, from the Republican document "A Pledge to America." It reads, "We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives. No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on."
We should note here that the NPR legislation is fairly brief. It's seven pages and took us less than 10 minutes to read. And the Senate still has to weigh in on the legislation, either to approve or stop it.
A spokesman for Boehner said the standard Republicans intend to uphold is the one from the pledge. "We used '3 days' in the Pledge to America, so that is what was 'pledged.' He may have said '72 hours' at some point early last year, but we were perfectly clear long before the election that '3 days' is the standard," Michael Steel said.
Finally, we should note that we looked for other measures that may have violated three-day rule, but we didn't find any. If the NPR measure is a violation of this promise, it's the first one we've found.
In considering our ruling, we found the NPR legislation was clearly fast-tracked. By a narrow definition of the House rules, it was posted during three calendar days. But it fell short of being posted for a full 72-hour, three-day airing that "by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives" suggests. The Republicans may be adhering to the letter of their rule, but they've violated the spirit of not rushing through legislation. So we rate this promise Stalled for now and will monitor how they do with future bills before making a final ruling.
U.S. House of Representatives, Adopting rules for the One Hundred Twelfth Congress, Jan. 4, 2011
U.S. House of Representatives Roll Call Votes, To prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio and the use of Federal funds to acquire radio content, March 17, 2011
Congressional Record, Providing for consideration of H.R. 1076, prohibiting federal funding of National Public Radio, March 17, 2011
Congressional Record, Prohibiting federal funding of National Public Radio, March 17, 2011
House Committee on Rules, H.R. 1076, To prohibit Federal funding of National Public Radio and the use of Federal funds to acquire radio content, March 16, 2011
Sunlight Foundation, Yesterday's Vote Broke 72 Hour Pledge, March 18, 2011
Sunlight Foundation, Does the NPR Defund Vote Violate 72 Hour Pledge?, March 17, 2011
YouTube, Read the Bill: Boehner Says GOP Will Post Bills Online for 72 Hours Before a Vote, Feb. 19, 2010
Fox News, interview with John Boehner, July 10, 2010
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House GOP directs bills to go online three days before action
Updated: Thursday, January 6th, 2011
By Angie Drobnic Holan
Speaker of the House John Boehner took the gavel for the Republican majority, promising greater transparency. Toward that end, the House adopted rules that say a bill should be available online for three days before a vote.
Making sure the public (and members) could read a bill before a vote has long been a goal for open-government advocates. The new rules go a long way toward making that a reality. The rules say that it is a "point of order" that bills must be posted online for three calendar days before they may be acted upon.
Yet it's possible for points of order to be be waived from time to time. The nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation examined the new rules and warned that there are several ways House leadership or legislation could act to undermine the requirement to post bills online.
Nevertheless, the new rule means progress. "The spirit of the changes makes us optimistic that all bills will publicly available, online, for at least 72 hours before they are considered. The new majority is off to a good start," said Lisa Rosenberg, writing on Sunlight's blog on Jan. 4, 2011.
We're going to be watching the House Republicans to see if they do indeed post bills online for three days before voting. If they do, we'll rate this Promise Kept. For now, they've adopted a rule in favor of such posting, so we rate the promise In the Works.
House of Representatives Committee on Rules, Text of H.Res. 5, Providing for the Rules of the 112th Congress, Jan. 5, 2011
House of Representatives Committee on Rules, Section-by-Section Analysis, Jan. 5, 2011
Thomas, Adopting rules for the 112th Congress, Jan. 6, 2011
The Sunlight Foundation, Read the Bill Reality, Jan. 4, 2011