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New GOP Leaders: Will They Really Open Up the House?

3 years ago
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The chairman of the GOP House transition team, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), on Wednesday laid down the operating philosophy for the incoming leaders when it comes to making House business more transparent: "How do we open it up? How do we make it more accessible? How do we bring the public in?"
Walden commented at a press conference with presumptive House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as the new team starts to grapple with how to deliver on its promises to allow the public to "watch your business being done and maybe help us do that business better."
Don't underestimate the challenges involved in opening up Congress -- where most members even decline to post their public schedules on a website. While much is online, and progress was made under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), there is more to be done on the disclosure front.
In some areas, the House and Senate stubbornly refuse to change.
The Senate has resisted putting campaign disbursements online, though contributions have long been accessible through the Federal Election Commission database. And in the House, lawmakers for years have been required to file reports on mass mailings they make using their franking privileges -- but in order to see them, you have to go to an office in the Capitol, since the House refuses to put them online.
With a new team coming in, the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan group dedicated to making government more transparent, has come up with a series of recommendations. "The House must redouble its commitment to transparency, and deepen the relationship between constituents and representatives," Sunlight urged.
The 112th Congress, to be sworn in in January, "can be the most open and accountable Congress ever, and online transparency can help Congress reach that goal," the foundation said.
John Wonderlich, policy director for the Sunlight Foundation, told Politics Daily, "The appetite is certainly there. The problem is some of the reforms are easier than others."
"They have a lot of good ideas," said Brendan Buck, the transition team spokesman.
Among them:
-- Post all public House documents online. It's 2010, and, as with the franking documents, the House still forces folks who want to look at a host of public filings to come to the Capitol. "This includes personal financial disclosures, travel reports, recusals, filings regarding negotiations for future employment," Sunlight said in its recommendations report.
-- Earmarks database. While the future of earmarks is being debated, Sunlight is calling for a centralized earmark database, including requests. Many members disclose earmarks on their websites; while legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate, this may be accomplished via rules decided by the House leadership.
-- Posting bills before votes. Pelosi began a policy of posting legislation online for 72 hours before a vote. Sunlight is recommending what has "become routine practice should now be codified in House rules." A 72-hour posting requirement was included in the Republican "Pledge for America."
-- Open meetings of the House Ethics Committee to the public unless they're about allegations against an individual and post all written reports online.
-- Posting hearing transcripts. House committees -- they all have websites -- should follow the Senate example and post transcripts of hearings within 21 days, and get unofficial transcripts out as soon as possible after a hearing. All hearing notices for committees and subcommittee should be published at one central location at House.gov.
-- Live stream everything. Any congressional activity open to the public, from the floor to a subcommittee, should be live streamed.
-- Congressional Research Reports, a goldmine of information, should be available to the public and posted online -- just as the General Accounting Office does.
-- Post "Dear Colleague" letters. Lawmakers often communicate with each other through "Dear Colleague" letters, which are pitches for support for legislation or other projects. These letters should be posted for the public.
A member of the GOP transition committee -- Adam Kinzinger, elected last week from a suburban Chicago district -- was reminded during an interview with Fox News' Bill Hemmer that the public has heard promises about transparency in the past. What's going to be different? Kinzinger was asked.
"So whatever we have to do, that 72 hours of bills being available on the Internet, we have to figure out how to make that happen, including amendments and things along that line. Ultimately, make sure how we can restore that trust. Look, I mean, the reality is, is we are renting the majority -- we don't own it."

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39 Comments

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vallesula

Fifty One Percent ( 51% of Americans don't bother to vote for, they want no part of this farce and charade; both major political partys make a mockery of our democracy - while working for the special interests groups. It's no coincidence that the establishment will donate to both partys...we're being duped and we don't even know it.

November 12 2010 at 1:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
vallesula

policies of the establishments are carried out by the BOTH monopoly holders to our politics cuz, they BOTH work for the same set or groups that pay for their campaigns. Only difference, one will tell us OPENLY, they will pork us all, while the other would rather razzle-dazzle us with BS - in making us believe they care, but when the dust settles, the outcome is always thesame con job...( i.e, " I wanted toget it done foryou, but our hands are tied because those on the other side of the isle aint co-operating". People if you concentrate on the bottom line, the ends results are always the same, " eitherway, NEITHER GETS NOTHING DONE". We are being huzzled and we don't even know it.

November 12 2010 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
methnkng

They should post all communications and a recording of all meetings with lobbyists. Sure they don't want to do this. But if Americans stood up and emailed their rep once a week demanding this be done, they might just do it.

November 11 2010 at 6:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ralph

The First thing that needs to be done is the tax cuts and they need to be for ever this time. then we need to make a law that no money can be taken for the labor unions. then we need all of the protection laws removed from the books for the labor unions, and laws put into place for a maximum that can be cut for workers that were union per year. And get the unions out of all government places for it is agianest the law. There is no way that companies in america can compete with the imports. to have jobs here our companies need to be able to run their companies. they were the ones that built America, so whats wrong with them now. But we must protect the workers that were union then, to very small cuts per year so they can adjust and place their lives in order, as the company can get more competitive and the people in America can afford to buy what they make

November 11 2010 at 6:12 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Tom

What the secret holds that some senators put on nominees, to block vote on the nomination? We can't even find out what senator did it.

November 11 2010 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rebailey

When did Nancy Pelosi begin posting bills 72 hours in advance of a vote? Lots of talk about this in 2008 but it never happened.

November 11 2010 at 5:10 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ettu

Didn't the taxpayers recently pay $19 million to upgrade computer systems in DC? Would it be so difficult to provide a simple program that would allow citizens to read proposed bills and make a yes or no vote? At the very least, this could be done for those bills that drastically change rules and regulations governing the people.

November 11 2010 at 4:16 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
captpeterw

Forget it, Folks. It's more of the same. As soon as the newbies arrive in Congress, they are told that if they want to get along, they have to go along. And anybody who doesn't go along and wants to live up to their campaign promises is out the door. Don't believe me? Read your history and watch the future.

November 11 2010 at 4:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
cplkling

How about some Common Sense reforms such as One Bill at a Time? Or, have Congress demonstrate where in the Constitution they have the imperative to pass a bill? How about we only give benefits to citizens? How about they read each bill before voting on it? Pass the FairTax. Congress gets their pay cut if there isn't a balanced budget each year. There are so many simple ways to get our fiscal house in order, but there are too many citizens that are dependent upon Government and they will scream like stuck pigs if there is ANY talk of cutting ANYTHING. Such selfish people. So much for the Proud Americans.

November 11 2010 at 3:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
futureplanninggr

What about Lobbyists? Congress should require all lobbyists to also make public what it is they are lobbying our representatives about. We should also require the lobbyists to declare to the Ethics Committee how much money and/or perks are in the "satchel" for our reps and/or senators and make the declaration available to the public. Furthermore, the Committee, right there and then, should bill the recipients the taxes due.

November 11 2010 at 12:49 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

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