Wicker Calls for Increased Legislative Transparency

Senator Says Bills Should Be Posted Online for 72 Hours Prior to Vote

October 12, 2009

In the past year, the American public has grown increasingly unhappy with the way business has been done in Washington, D.C.  As deficits have risen, so has the level of anger across the country.  Much of the discontent has been driven by an alarming lack of transparency in how taxpayer dollars are being spent. 

Specifically, Americans have grown tired of Congress ramming through phone book-sized bills without providing enough time for elected members or the public to review them.  A leading example of this problem is the trillion-dollar so-called stimulus bill that was passed in February.  Despite the fact that this 1,073-page bill contained the largest spending increase since World War II, Democratic leaders in Congress rushed it to the floor of both the House and the Senate less than 24 hours after the legislation was finalized, ensuring no members could read it or receive input from the American public.

This lack of transparency represents an unfortunate disregard for taxpayers.  With the Senate moving toward consideration of a massive, trillion-dollar health care measure, action needs to be taken to ensure any health care bill is given the scrutiny it deserves.  To that end, last week I joined in introducing a resolution that would change Senate rules to require that all legislation be made available to the public for 72 hours prior to being voted on. 

                         72-HOUR TRANSPARENCY
An informed constituency is a vital part of our representative democracy.  The 72-hour transparency measure recognizes this, and would provide every American the opportunity to review legislation before it is voted on by their members of the U.S. Senate. 

Very simply, the resolution would require that all legislation be posted online for at least 72 hours before it can be voted on at the committee level or on the floor of the Senate.  Of equal importance, the measure would also require that a cost analysis completed by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office be included.  If a situation were to arise that called for emergency legislation to be passed, a vote of two-thirds of the Senate could waive the 72-hour rule.

The notion of providing members of Congress and the public 72 hours to review legislation prior to a vote is strongly supported by the American public.  A Rasmussen poll released two weeks ago showed that 83 percent of Americans believe in implementing this reform.  The issue has support across party lines.  The poll found that the 72-hour idea was supported by 92 percent of independents, compared to 85 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats.

Newspapers across the country have also joined in the call for this needed reform.  Writing in support of the 72-hour provision, the Sheboygan Press in Wisconsin recently said, “This is not a Democratic or Republican issue.  It is one of pure common sense.”  The Washington Times added: “When major legislation is completed, it is the result of negotiations that can be years in the making, with many last-minute changes.  Hundreds of pages can get jammed into bills in the middle of the night with only a few staffers knowing what's in them. Having a few days to digest the information should be mandatory.” 
The idea is gaining traction.  Last week, eight Senate Democrats sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid asking that the pending health care bill be made public for at least 72 hours prior to a vote.  In their letter, the senators wrote, “Every step of the process needs to be transparent, and information regarding the bill needs to be readily available to our constituents.”  There is also a bipartisan push being made to force Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the 72-hour rule change to the House floor for a vote.  I welcome my House colleagues’ efforts.  This is a reform that is needed in both chambers of Congress.

Forcing an up-or-down vote on massive, thousand-page bills just hours after they are made public is unfair to taxpayers, and it represents a poor way to run our government.  It is time to reform this process so that the American public is provided the transparency they expect and deserve.  The 72-hour resolution would do just that.