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.

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Billy says:

    Just to second your point, as you point out the agencies are already required to do this before enacting any laws. People do comment, but the agencies still do what they want. I’d argue that we already have a form of this anyway – it’s called “lobbying.”

  2. PD Shaw says:

    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.

    Yet most states (all?) require final versions of legislation to be read on three separate days. Congress used to require all bills to be read, but it dispensed with the requirement for the reason that illiteracy was no longer an issue and the members could read the bills on their own. I think it’s well past time to re-consider that premise.

  3. Eric Florack says:

    Well, the only advantage I could ever see out of his idea is to at least allow time for legislators to actually read what they’re voting on. Such would at least eliminate the “we’ve got to pass something/anything NOW, else God will shoot this puppy” nonsense we’ve seen from the current crop.

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    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.

    My understanding is that Obama was supposed to do this. Wait at least several days before signing legislation. Of course, it has only happened once I think.

    So much for promises. But hey, its boring and nobody reads it…like policy analysts, think tanks, and so forth…nope nobody reads, in some cases not even the politicians voting for this crap. SWGAF.

  5. Brian Knapp says:

    Well, the only advantage I could ever see out of his idea is to at least allow time for legislators to actually read what they’re voting on.

    Wishful thinking!

  6. The Federal government already has a ton of transparency.

    After the fact, sure, but the point is that we need more insight into the sausage making in the hope of cleaning it up — think Upton Sinclair, for instance.

    I’d also note that the sheer volume of information published by the federal government is not synonymous with transparency. Whose to say that a “ton” of transparency is the right amount for the “megatons” of dollars being expended?

  7. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    As of right now I can:

    (a) watch congressional debates on C-Span and
    (b) follow the text of legislation on Thomas.

    Why is a wating period necessary?

  8. Triumph says:

    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.

    You follow the wrong blogs. OMB Watch blog is dedicated to just this issue: http://www.ombwatch.org/the_fine_print

    Right now they are about the only place talking about the idiotic war by Senate Republicans against Obama’s pick for OIRA head.

  9. Alex, FWIW, I don’t believe a waiting period is a good idea per se, but I do believe a person should know what’s in a bill before voting for it (or against it). By the way, the argument that we must do something right now, that it cannot even wait a week was utter bullshit the first time the Obama administration used it and it only smells worse now. I’m really starting to wonder what’s left of Obama’s agenda (or an America that values the rule of law, invidual liberty, and free markets) for years two, three, and four.

    I’d turn your question around though. Why is the Congressional Leadership so anxious to provide no time for review of the legislation — even by those who must decide upon it? Do you think this is good for representative democracy?

  10. Oh, and congressional debates are near worthless, kind of like Senate Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justices. They are all political theater and yield little to no edification.