Sunday, June 28, 2009

We need real sunlight in Washington

President Obama's "Sunlight before Signing" pledge, in which he promised to post all new legislation online and wait five days before signing it in order to give Americans a chance to review it, was a promise empty of any real meaning. With no expectation that this policy would affect whether or not the president signs a bill, it matters not whether the "viewing period" comes before or after the actual signing. It seems clear that the promise was purely a political one, a nod to "transparency" with no tangible effect.

Still, it's disappointing that Obama has been unable to keep even his token promise. At a time when trust in government is fragile, the breaking of even a vacuous promise -- possibly especially a vacuous promise -- isn't helpful.

What would be helpful, in terms of both transparency and trust, would be to build some meaningful delays into the legislative process. Congress has become increasingly irresponsible in its willingness to rush through pieces of legislation without due deliberation. We saw this with the "stimulus" bill, where legislators were forced to vote on a 1000-plus page bill to cost taxpayers $787,000,000,000 within a few hours of its becoming available to them.

This was clearly done for political reasons. Polls showed that the more the public learned about the bill, the less they supported it. Democrats had to ram it through before we figured out what was in it. Three months later, we're still being surprised by what is in it, and how ill-conceived it was.

The Democrats were properly criticized for not allowing enough time for reams of legalise to be read (let alone digested, considered, and debated) before forcing a vote. Their response was to hire speed readers to read subsequent bills into the record. This is what passes for responsible government in our nation's capital.

The handling of the cap-and-trade bill, passed by the House yesterday is an even more egregious example. In this case it wasn't merely a matter of not allowing the time to read a bill, but the fact that there was no actual bill to read. Apparently, the only "copy" of the bill was two separate stacks of paper, the first being a 1000-plus page earlier draft of the "bill," the second being a 300-page "amendment," comprised of statements which take the form: "Page 15, beginning line 8, strike paragraph (11)..."

It's outrageous that our government is enacting a massive energy policy that will cost over $1,000,000,000,000 in this reckless manner. Even the most trivial of laws should deliberated upon. That it has become commonplace for $1,000,000,000,000 bills to be slapped together in this way is beyond irresponsible; it is obscene. Any member of Congress who voted for this bill should be removed from office for malfeasance and violation of the public trust.

If Obama wants to do something meaningful in the area of transparent and responsible government, he should be pushing Congress to enact some meaningful policies which ensure that all bills that come before his desk have been well researched, well considered, and well debated. These are not unreasonable requirements. This is what our representatives are elected for. It is their job to know what they are voting on, and it's sickening that that they can't be trusted to do it.

[h/t Andy McCarthy, Powerline]

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