Wednesday, October 07, 2009

GUEST COLUMN: "Transparency in Congress is Good for Democracy"

By Rep. Mike Turner (R, OH-03)

The call for greater transparency in government didn’t begin with the Internet age, yet for all the advances in personal communications, Americans still don’t understand why the leadership in Congress blocks timely access to legislation affecting their lives. This question is also resonating through the corridors of Capitol Hill where an increasing number of lawmakers are calling for a mandatory three day review of bills, to make sure the public has an opportunity to read them before Congress votes.

Last week, the polling firm Rasmussen reported that 83 percent of Americans say Congress should put all legislation on-line for public review before a vote. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced legislation to force the House to do just that. The bill, H. Res. 554, of which I am a cosponsor, requires that legislation and conference reports be available on the Internet for 72 hours before consideration by the House except in case of emergency.

The Obama administration and the leadership in Congress promised openness and transparency in their governing, but the last ten months have proven otherwise. In their rush to pass an agenda of bigger government spending and increased taxes on working Americans, the House leadership, with the support of the administration, has pushed through a host of controversial bills that were crafted without full lawmaker and public scrutiny.

The most prominent examples of this came during the passage of the “stimulus” and “cap and trade” bills. In both cases, these phone book-sized bills were hurried to the House Floor without sufficient time to review their provisions. The cap and trade energy bill was actually altered in the middle of the night, less than a day before it came up for a vote. The House leadership boldly inserted 300 pages that Republicans did not see until the hours leading up to the vote.

I opposed the $800 billion economic stimulus and also voted against the cap and trade energy bill. Despite being railroaded through the House, both of these bills were ill-considered. The stimulus bill did not help those who’ve suffered the most due to job loss and home foreclosures, and lacked details as to how taxpayer funds would be spent. In addition to raising taxes on working families, the cap and trade energy legislation also failed to address the important energy needs facing Ohio families and would further burden our state’s manufacturing base and cause additional job loss.

The forced passage of these bills only fueled the public’s distrust of Congress and the government, setting the stage for spirited town hall meetings this past summer. While the initial House leadership health care reform bill was posted on-line, it is unclear how much time Speaker Pelosi will give lawmakers and the public to review the final health care bill. Last week, the Senate Finance committee opposed a 72-hour waiting period before its members clear a health care bill.

Despite opposition from the House leadership, the 72-hour waiting period bill is gaining momentum. Last week, supporters introduced a “discharge petition” in an effort to force a House vote on the waiting period legislation. To bring the bill to the Floor for a vote, 218 lawmakers must sign the discharge petition. As of last Friday, 182 lawmakers, including myself, had given it their support.

It’s disappointing that the Congressional leadership continues to oppose public viewing of legislation prior to votes even in the face of strong national support for such advanced disclosure. H. Res. 544 deserves a full House vote.

– United States Representative Michael Turner represents Ohio’s Third Congressional District.