From the “Sounds Pretty But Won’t Happen” Dept.
In a discussion with Conor Friedersdorf over streamlining legislation, Publius remarks:
That’s why I’d like to see a waiting period between the final release of legislation and the vote. The public could then go all “Army of Davids” on the legislation, which would enhance transparency, democratic deliberation, etc.
This is one of those ideas that sounds great on paper and completely and utterly fails the real life test.
Let’s put this in scientific terms. Publius hypothesizes that if there is a waiting period between final release of legislation and the vote, there will be increased scrutiny of the language of the bill.
Of course, the only way to test this hypothesis is to enact the legislation. However, there are three aspects of the blogosphere right now that lead me to believe that this hypothesis isn’t very good.
1. Where are the C-Span Blogs?
Through C-Span, every American in the country has access to congressional deliberation whenever it is happening. If you want to see what your legislator is saying on a bill, stay tuned to the House floor during deliberations. Sounds great, right? Well, it is. But let’s be honest with ourselves – very few people watch C-Span at any given moment. Even fewer people than that blog about it. The heavy hitting political blogs barely mention it. If an “Army of Davids” really wanted to examine every nook and cranny of legislating, wouldn’t there be some popular C-Span blogs?
2. Where are the Thomas@LOC Blogs?
For the past few years, Americans have had unprecedented access to pending legislation in both houses of Congress. It’s called Thomas, and it’s updated daily. They even conveniently summarize yesterday’s Congressional actions here. And yet, even during debate, most blogs rely on reporting about general policy discussion in Congress rather than on the text of legislation. If only a handful of niche bloggers look at pending legislation now, what reason is there to believe that this will change?
3. Where are the regulatory agency blogs?
By law, when a regulatory agency wants to change, repeal, and enact a new rule or regulation, they are required to post that for public comment and allow for a waiting period. These pending rules and regulations are available online. Heck, you can even access the regulatory AGENDAS–that is, what the agencies are planning to enact here. And yet, though I follow all of the major political blogs, I note that rarely, if ever, are pending rules and regulations discussed or commented.
These three things lead me to believe that a waiting period between final versions of legislation and actual voting really won’t make much of a difference in terms of public input into legislation. The Federal government already has a ton of transparency. But bloggers don’t take advantage of this. Instead, bloggers mainly rely on reporters and talking heads for information and debate general policy rather than specific legislation.
And the reason for this, I might add, is simple: it’s boring, and people don’t read it.
So yeah, I have to admit that I’m rather skeptical about Publius’ proposal.