Yesterday, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, submitted a motion that would have instructed members of the House/Senate conference finalizing the “stimulus” bill to make the final conference agreement available online “in an electronic, searchable, and downloadable form for at least 48 hours” before the House and Senate took their final votes on the borrow-and-spend monstrosity.
236 Democrats voted in favor of the motion. Not one voted against it.
Despite this, House Democrats are preparing to ignore the motion they voted for in order to pass this spending bill as quickly as possible.
A House contact told me via email:[The motion to instruct] is not legally binding – motions to instruct are often ignored by Democratic conferees – but that is primarily because they believe they can get away with doing so in the court of public opinion.
The bottom line is that they all voted for it yesterday, and if they opt to ignore it today by refusing to allow a 48-hour online review before a vote, it is because they are betting that their duplicity will not be noticed by their constituents.
That sounds about right for this crowd.
Transparency is an issue that crosses party lines - there is no Republican or Democrat philosophical difference when it comes to making sure that the public knows what is going on. You will find proponents of 'openness' on all sides of the political spectrum.
But despite a strong desire from the public, our representatives in Washington - who speak a lot about it - are not very good at follow-through. As Jon Henke at The Next Right writes:
Transparency is an area of genuine opportunity for progress right now, because (1) the majority party promised they would do it, and (2) the minority party has a political incentive to hold the majority to their promise.
However, as easy and obvious a policy as transparency seems, there are also two problems with it: (1) the majority now has a political disincentive to be transparent, and (2) the minority has no credibility to insist upon it.
Transparency is good, but Republicans cannot simply endorse transparency measures that make life more difficult for Democrats. Republicans cannot (as they did last year) reduce "transparency" to "policies that make it politically easier for us to pursue our agenda."
As he rightly points out, the GOP had the opportunity to institute such policies when they were in charge, but didn't, so they look pretty ridiculous, now that they're in the minority, saying that transparency is a necessity.
Henke is also right when he says that the "key to Republican credibility ... is actual, unilateral leadership," and he makes three suggestions for how to achieve such credibility:
First, Congressional Republicans must designate an outside, non- or bi-partisan group of experts and advocates to design an ideal, accomplishable set of transparency rules. And that process itself must be transparent.
Second, Congressional Republicans must, unilaterally and without condition, embrace expansive - even uncomfortable and politically inconvenient - transparency and disclosure rules for the House and Senate Republicans.
Third, Congressional Republicans - after having adopted a non-partisan standard of transparency and disclosure - should propose to universalize those rules (on an all-or-nothing basis) across Congress.
The problem, as we all know, is that transparency is wanted by everyone except those in power. But as Henke says:
"If Republicans want to demonstrate a commitment to actual reform, this is the way to accomplish it. It would be good policy, it addresses crucial problems, and it is something Republicans have in their power to accomplish. What's more, while it would make many in Congress unhappy, it would be publicly popular."