Obama’s Most Broken Promise

Jim Harper at the Cato Institute points out that not only has Obama failed to keep his campaign promise of posting bills he was going to sign to the internet, but that President Obama will likely keep right on breaking this promise.

President Obama promised on the campaign trail that he would have the most transparent administration in history. As part of this commitment, he said that the public would have five days to look online and find out what was in the bills that came to his desk before he signed them. It was his first broken promise, and it’s the promise that keeps on breaking. He has now signed 11 bills into law and gone, at best, 1 for 11 on his five-day posting promise. The Obama administration should deliver on the Web-enabled transparency he promised and post bills for five days before signing.

To the thrill of technology and transparency advocates, candidate Obama promised sunlight before signing: “As president,” his campaign website said, “Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.”

But nine days after taking office, he signed a bill into law without posting it on Whitehouse.gov for five days. Since then, 10 more bills have become law over the president’s signature, and only one has been posted online for five days — and that was for five days after it cleared Congress, not after formal presentment. Two bills have been held by the White House for five days before signing — but they weren’t posted online!

So why might this make a difference…well if President Obama were to actually follow through on his promise?

Members of Congress are highly skilled political risk balancers, and the president’s firm insistence on leaving bills sitting out there, unsigned, after they pass Congress would have a significant effect on congressional behavior. It would threaten to reveal excesses in parochial amendments and earmarks, which could bring down otherwise good bills. Recognizing the negative attention they could draw to themselves, representatives and senators would act with more circumspection, and last-minute add-ons to big bills would recede. A firm five-day rule at the White House would also inspire the House and Senate to implement more transparent and careful processes themselves.

I don’t know sounds like possibly wishful thinking, but since leaving a bill unsigned for 5 days and putting on the internet would at best have no impact what the heck, why not post it. Candidate Obama thought it was important enough for it to a campaign promise.

Photo by Flickr user Speaker Pelosi under the Creative Commons license.

FILED UNDER: Government, ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Raoul says:

    Can’t anybody just post the bills? I mean it is a public record, no?

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    I don’t know. These are bills presented to the President for his signature. Probably yes, but there are most likely several versions. The House version, Senate version, and maybe even several versions that were being haggled over before going to the President. Having a dedicated spot on the White House website for whatever is the final bill the President is about to sign would be handy.

    Besides, President Obama made a promise, he should live up to it. Especially one that is so easily done. Wait 5 days, and have it uploaded to the White House website. Not a huge deal.

  3. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    The premise seems wanting. Are the bills on Thomas for five days? Why do they specifically need to be on whitehouse.gov?

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    The premise seems wanting. Are the bills on Thomas for five days? Why do they specifically need to be on whitehouse.gov?

    That was the promise.

  5. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    Well I watched the video you linked, and what he says is that all bills will be available online for five days before he signs them. I don’t hear anything that would rule out the five days being spent at thomas.loc.gov, which is after all quite public.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Jeffery,

    It is in this document from Barack Obama’s campaign website. He made the promise, and he is not living up to it.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Wow, a politician who isn’t living up to his promises…that’s simply unheard of…

  8. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    Steve: thanks for the link. The reason I asked is because anyone with a passing familiarity of our system of government would not expect to visit the web site of the executive branch in order to read the text of a bill. When I want to read a bill I go to the web site of the Library of Congress. I guess in this day and age you have to beat the citizenry over the head with a big flashy site like whitehouse.gov?

  9. Michael says:

    He made the promise, and he is not living up to it.

    I’m all about holding politicians to their promises, but it strikes me that you’re perhaps making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    Basically your concern is that he isn’t posting them on the same website he said he would, and that they haven’t been available on said website for the amount of time he said they would. But they are available online for review for some period of time before the President signs them, yes? I’d say that a different implementation doesn’t necessarily constitute a broken promise.

  10. FranklinTest says:

    It’s not a broken promise – they’ve just all been emergency bills!

    /just kidding

  11. Steve Verdon says:

    But they are available online for review for some period of time before the President signs them, yes?

    No. Some he has signed in less than the 5 days. And going to the Library of Congresses website isn’t the simplest thing to navigate. Sure it gets the job done, but it could be a bit easier to find exactly what one is looking for.

  12. Michael says:

    No. Some he has signed in less than the 5 days. And going to the Library of Congresses website isn’t the simplest thing to navigate. Sure it gets the job done, but it could be a bit easier to find exactly what one is looking for.

    But thats a failure of implementation, not a failure of initiative. It’s hard to accuse someone of breaking a promise because the implementation differs in the details.

  13. Rob says:

    Sure, just make it so hard to look for the promised bills, and people will stop looking.

    Oh, look, a shiny obect….