Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

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Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby The Reaper » Tue Oct 06, 2009 10:39 pm UTC

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/polit ... 57217.html
As Congress lurches closer to a decision on an enormous overhaul of the American health care system, pressure is mounting on legislative leaders to make the final bill available online for citizens to read before a vote.

Lawmakers were given just hours to examine the $789 billion stimulus plan, sweeping climate-change legislation and a $700 billion bailout package before final votes.

While most Americans normally ignore parliamentary detail, with health care looming, voters are suddenly paying attention. The Senate is expected to vote on a health bill in the weeks to come, representing months of work and stretching to hundreds of pages. And as of now, there is no assurance that members of the public, or even the senators themselves, will be given the chance to read the legislation before a vote.

"The American people are now suspicious of not only the lawmakers, but the process they hide behind to do their work," said Michael Franc, president of government relations for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

At town hall meetings across the country this past summer, the main topic was health care, but there was a strong undercurrent of anger over the way Congress rushed through passage of the stimulus, global warming and bank bailout bills without seeming to understand the consequences. The stimulus bill, for example, was 1,100 pages long and made available to Congress and the public just 13 hours before lawmakers voted on it. The bill has failed to provide the promised help to the job market, and there was outrage when it was discovered that the legislation included an amendment allowing American International Group, a bailout recipient, to give out millions in employee bonuses.

"If someone had a chance to look at the bill, they would have found that out," said Lisa Rosenberg, who lobbies Congress on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation to bring more transparency to government.

The foundation has begun an effort to get Congress to post bills online, for all to see, 72 hours before lawmakers vote on them.

"It would give the public a chance to really digest and understand what is in the bill," Rosenberg said, "and communicate whether that is a good or a bad thing while there is still time to fix it."

A similar effort is under way in Congress. Reps. Brian Baird, D-Wash., and Greg Walden, R-Ore., are circulating a petition among House lawmakers that would force a vote on the 72-hour rule.

Nearly every Republican has signed on, but the Democratic leadership is unwilling to cede control over when bills are brought to the floor for votes and are discouraging their rank and file from signing the petition. Senate Democrats voted down a similar measure last week for the health care bill.

The reluctance to implement a three-day rule is not unique to the Democrats.

The Republican majority rushed through the controversial Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as well as a massive Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003 that added hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit.

For the majority party, legislative timing plays a big role in whether a bill will pass because support can be fleeting.

"The leaders use it as a tool to get votes or to keep amendments off a bill," said one top Senate Democratic aide.

But Baird warned of public backlash.

"Democrats know politically it's difficult to defend not doing this," he said. "The public gets this. They say we entrust you with the profound responsibility of making decisions that affect our lives, and we expect you to exercise due diligence in carrying out that responsibility."

What you don't know can hurt you:

» House energy and global warming bill, passed June 26, 2009. 1,200 pages. Available online 15 hours before vote.

» $789 billion stimulus bill, passed Feb. 14, 2009. 1,100 pages. Available online 13 hours before debate.

» $700 billion financial sector rescue package, passed Oct. 3, 2008. 169 pages. Available online 29 hours before vote.

» USA Patriot domestic surveillance bill, passed Oct. 23, 2001. Unavailable to the public before debate.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby zug » Tue Oct 06, 2009 11:03 pm UTC

Well I can understand why a politician, someone who's concerned with getting re-voted in, would be concerned with keeping the content of bills out of the public eye.

However, I don't see how public knowledge about a bill's content in advance has anything to do with how a politician will vote on it. If the public finds out about a bill after their politician has voted on it, well it's not like the public has a vote on these things anyway. We express our disapproval with our votes, or lack thereof. Unless a politician doesn't know how their constituency would react to their vote (which seems unlikely, since politicians care for little more than appearance to voters).

I guess my question is, why does it matter whether it's posted before or after? I'd think politicians would prefer the public not to know at all, but once the public is going to know about it, it shouldn't matter when that happens.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby apeman5291 » Tue Oct 06, 2009 11:22 pm UTC

zug wrote:However, I don't see how public knowledge about a bill's content in advance has anything to do with how a politician will vote on it. If the public finds out about a bill after their politician has voted on it, well it's not like the public has a vote on these things anyway. We express our disapproval with our votes, or lack thereof. Unless a politician doesn't know how their constituency would react to their vote (which seems unlikely, since politicians care for little more than appearance to voters).
If bills are posted online before a vote, then that gives concerned constituents time to write, email, and call their representatives about them. That way, representatives know how people react to a bill in time to change their opinion about it.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby ddxxdd » Tue Oct 06, 2009 11:26 pm UTC

apeman5291 wrote:
zug wrote:However, I don't see how public knowledge about a bill's content in advance has anything to do with how a politician will vote on it. If the public finds out about a bill after their politician has voted on it, well it's not like the public has a vote on these things anyway. We express our disapproval with our votes, or lack thereof. Unless a politician doesn't know how their constituency would react to their vote (which seems unlikely, since politicians care for little more than appearance to voters).
If bills are posted online before a vote, then that gives concerned constituents time to write, email, and call their representatives about them. That way, representatives know how people react to a bill in time to change their opinion about it.



I agree. In fact, I'm actually very disappointed the bills that the OP posted were only posted online 13 hours- 26 hours before they were voted on. Why can't Congress post bills online a month in advance so that we have time to actually debate them?
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby apeman5291 » Tue Oct 06, 2009 11:49 pm UTC

ddxxdd wrote:I agree. In fact, I'm actually very disappointed the bills that the OP posted were only posted online 13 hours- 26 hours before they were voted on. Why can't Congress post bills online a month in advance so that we have time to actually debate them?
It's a careful balance between moving legislation ahead and being transparent, and I think a month would slow Congress to a crawl. I agree though, the more time the better.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Diadem » Wed Oct 07, 2009 12:10 am UTC

Not posting them online is one thing, but the article says that the bills aren't even avaible to congress until just before the bill. Did I read that correctly?

That would mean that congressmen and senators are voting for bills when they have no idea what's in it.

Imho that should be considered official misconduct.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby The Reaper » Wed Oct 07, 2009 12:42 am UTC

Diadem wrote:Not posting them online is one thing, but the article says that the bills aren't even avaible to congress until just before the bill. Did I read that correctly?

That would mean that congressmen and senators are voting for bills when they have no idea what's in it.

Imho that should be considered official misconduct.

I agree. The mandatory 72 hours public viewing would give the congressmen themselves time to read through half this shit, or at least, let constituents parse it and tell them the important bits since they're too lazy.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby H2SO4 » Wed Oct 07, 2009 12:46 am UTC

Didn't Obama promise at some point that if the public wanted to know something about what the government is doing (so long as it's not a matter of national security) he would make it public? I'm trying to find a link to this, but I think it was buried in a speech of his, and God knows how many of those there are.

EDIT: Well lookee here. The White House has his promise right there.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby MrGee » Wed Oct 07, 2009 1:23 am UTC

Spoilered for outrage:

Spoiler:
if even the Senators don't know what's in the bill before they vote, WHO THE FUCK IS RUNNING MY COUNTRY?

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby PhoenixEnigma » Wed Oct 07, 2009 1:56 am UTC

MrGee wrote:Spoilered for outrage:

Spoiler:
if even the Senators don't know what's in the bill before they vote, WHO THE FUCK IS RUNNING MY COUNTRY?


I'd have to agree - who IS running your country, then?

The only thing I can think of that might make sense is if the people voting (or their staff, at least) are in the loop enough to understand a bill as it's developed, so that when it's about to be put to a vote, they only need to review the most recent changes to know what they're voting on, and not read the entire thing.

Not, I suspect, like that's actually what happens. That's both logical, and would take considerable effort on the part of those in office, and both seem pretty unlikely in politics. Someone please, please correct me if I'm wrong and that's actually how these things do work.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby ddxxdd » Wed Oct 07, 2009 3:11 am UTC

MrGee wrote:Spoilered for outrage:

Spoiler:
if even the Senators don't know what's in the bill before they vote, WHO THE FUCK IS RUNNING MY COUNTRY?

The case for not reading the bill you're voting on
Spoiler:
By custom, the finance committee uses "conceptual language"—also known as plain English—for a couple of reasons. One, at least in this case, the legislative language doesn't yet exist: There are 500-plus amendments to the bill, and they aren't yet in final form. Two, it uses plain English because the issues it is talking about are complicated and technical. (See an example here.)
So using "conceptual language" (found here) actually makes it more likely that members (and the public) can understand what's being debated. After everyone agrees, the concepts are sent to the Legislative Counsel's office and put into legislative language, which is debated and voted on.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby zug » Wed Oct 07, 2009 3:51 am UTC

apeman5291 wrote:
zug wrote:However, I don't see how public knowledge about a bill's content in advance has anything to do with how a politician will vote on it. If the public finds out about a bill after their politician has voted on it, well it's not like the public has a vote on these things anyway. We express our disapproval with our votes, or lack thereof. Unless a politician doesn't know how their constituency would react to their vote (which seems unlikely, since politicians care for little more than appearance to voters).
If bills are posted online before a vote, then that gives concerned constituents time to write, email, and call their representatives about them. That way, representatives know how people react to a bill in time to change their opinion about it.

Most issues these days seem to be pretty evenly divided along bipartisan lines. And all politicians know which political party voted them in, in their state.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Oct 07, 2009 1:14 pm UTC

1) Obama controls the executive Branch, not Congress. He has nothing to do with this.
2) Reading bills is overated. Knowing the summary of the bill is what is important.
3) 99.99% of Americans will find Congressional bills to be incomprehensible.
4) They can't post bills 1 month in advance because bills are changed on a daily basis in the end, with as many as hundreds of amendments added near the last minute. So the ignorant American public reading the original draft is beyond useless.
5) We are a Republic. No where in the Constitution does it say "then the public shall review laws". There is nothing inherantly wrong with leaving the public out of the legislative process. Its probably a good thing. (See DEATH PANELS!!!!)
6) In summary, I think a summary of the bills should be released prior to the passage of the bill with a moratorium on amendments during that period.

Here is a copy of a portion of a bill.
1) What does the bill do?
2) Does it actually accomplish what you think its trying to accomplish?

Spoiler:
SEC. 386. REDUCTION OF TAX BENEFITS FOR PROFITABLE LARGE CORPORATIONS WHICH REDUCE WORKFORCE.

`(a) In General- For any taxable year, if any profitable large corporation reduces by 15 percent or more the number of employees who perform any task or function at any facility in the United States, the amount of each facility-related tax benefit shall be reduced by 50 percent.

`(b) Definitions and Special Rules- For purposes of this section--

`(1) FACILITY-RELATED TAX BENEFIT-

`(A) IN GENERAL- The term `facility-related tax benefit' means--

`(i) any tax benefit to the extent attributable to a facility described in subsection (a), or

`(ii) to the extent that a tax benefit is not attributable to any facility, a pro rata portion of such tax benefit (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary).

`(B) EXCEPTION- Such term shall not include--

`(i) any exclusion from gross income under section 127 or 129 or any other deduction for the cost of employee health care, child care, job training, or retraining, or

`(ii) any other tax benefit (other than wages) which the Secretary determines by regulation to be a tax benefit for costs incurred primarily for the benefit of employees rather than the employer.

`(2) LARGE CORPORATION- The term `large corporation' means a corporation or partnership which is not a small-business concern (within the meaning of section 3 of the Small Business Act, as in effect on the date of the enactment of this section).

`(3) PROFITABLE- Any large corporation shall be treated as profitable, for any taxable year, if the sum of taxable income (if any) for the 5-taxable-year period ending with the preceding taxable year (or, if shorter, the period consisting of all preceding taxable years of such large corporation) equals or exceeds the sum of the net operating losses (if any) attributable to such period.

`(4) RELATED PERSONS-

`(A) IN GENERAL- All related persons shall be treated as one person.

`(B) RELATED PERSONS DEFINED- The term `related persons' means--

`(i) persons bearing a relationship described in section 267 or 707(b), and

`(ii) persons treated as a single employer under subsection (a) or (b) of section 52.

`(5) TAX BENEFIT- The term `tax benefit' means a credit, deduction, or exclusion allowable under this title.'

(b) Transmission of Data by Secretary of Labor- The Secretary of Labor shall transmit to the Secretary of the Treasury, not less than annually, a list of corporations and partnerships described in section 386(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (as added by this section).

(c) Clerical Amendment- The table of parts for subchapter C of chapter 1 of such Code is amended by adding at the end the following new item:



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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Armadillo Al » Wed Oct 07, 2009 2:01 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:3) 99.99% of Americans will find Congressional bills to be incomprehensible.

Isn't this why journalists and bloggers exist? To decipher what's actually going on in the world in a way that the general public can understand?
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Dauric » Wed Oct 07, 2009 2:35 pm UTC

Armadillo Al wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:3) 99.99% of Americans will find Congressional bills to be incomprehensible.

Isn't this why journalists and bloggers exist? To decipher what's actually going on in the world in a way that the general public can understand?

Too bad the 'journalists' are busy telling us about celebrity scandals rather than telling us about shit that actually affects the way we do business and live our lives.

Now We've all heard the "audience demands of media" bit, but if they want to be the "Fourth Estate of a Free Government" with those "Press Passes" and other such perks of the job then they have a responsibility to behave as an outlet for information that affects the citizens, not cloak themselves as "Entertainers" to justify failures in basic Journalistic Professionalism.

Back OT: I'm all for a moratorium on passing bills 72 hours to 1 business week, and posting the summary online so the people can debate it in forums, and contact their representatives about the content. Our representatives will need bigger staffs to handle the titanic flood of e-mail, but hey call it a job program to hire them and it's all good.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Oct 07, 2009 2:43 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:
Armadillo Al wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:3) 99.99% of Americans will find Congressional bills to be incomprehensible.

Isn't this why journalists and bloggers exist? To decipher what's actually going on in the world in a way that the general public can understand?

Too bad the 'journalists' are busy telling us about celebrity scandals rather than telling us about shit that actually affects the way we do business and live our lives.

Now We've all heard the "audience demands of media" bit, but if they want to be the "Fourth Estate of a Free Government" with those "Press Passes" and other such perks of the job then they have a responsibility to behave as an outlet for information that affects the citizens, not cloak themselves as "Entertainers" to justify failures in basic Journalistic Professionalism.

Back OT: I'm all for a moratorium on passing bills 72 hours to 1 business week, and posting the summary online so the people can debate it in forums, and contact their representatives about the content. Our representatives will need bigger staffs to handle the titanic flood of e-mail, but hey call it a job program to hire them and it's all good.


Its been proven that people won't watch "hard news". CBS tried to do this in the 80's (and again in the 90'?) where they would follow elections with no sound bites and would do indepth analysis and really delve into the issues. It took about 2 weeks of plummeting viewership to go back to soundbites and sensationalism.

Compare the ratings of Celebrites gone wild versus CSPAN.
The people are dumb and ignorant and don't listen to or pay attention to hard news in any numbers significant enough.
With the possible new exception of politico.com.


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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Dauric » Wed Oct 07, 2009 3:00 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:
Its been proven that people won't watch "hard news". CBS tried to do this in the 80's (and again in the 90'?) where they would follow elections with no sound bites and would do indepth analysis and really delve into the issues. It took about 2 weeks of plummeting viewership to go back to soundbites and sensationalism.

Compare the ratings of Celebrites gone wild versus CSPAN.
The people are dumb and ignorant and don't listen to or pay attention to hard news in any numbers significant enough.
With the possible new exception of politico.com.


Ixtellor


Oh, I know it's not profitable, but that's not the point. Back when the original three networks were set up there was an understanding that the airwaves they broadcast on were public property, and in order to have the right to use those frequencies they had to provide a genuine service to the communities they operated in. And so was born Televised News.

Now I understand things have changed in the T.V. biz, and I understand that the business is driven by audience numbers and advertising dollars, but I think the social need for a genuine journalistic service to the citizens for the right to operate high-power broadcast stations is still true, and the disintegration of our national dialog on all manner of topics in to hysteria, irrelevancies, and half-truths only serves to highlight that fact.

And so by Al's criteria:
Armadillo Al wrote:Isn't this why journalists and bloggers exist? To decipher what's actually going on in the world in a way that the general public can understand?

They're failing miserably at that purpose.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Belial » Wed Oct 07, 2009 3:06 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:And so by Al's criteria:
Armadillo Al wrote:Isn't this why journalists and bloggers exist? To decipher what's actually going on in the world in a way that the general public can understand?

They're failing miserably at that purpose.


I get what you're saying, but there's a problem: that purpose absolutely is not served if you have great, integrity-laden, informative journalism that no one is watching. If no one's paying attention, it doesn't inform the populace, and it doesn't change the discourse. Because it has no effect whatsoever.

As sad as it makes me to say it, something has to change before the kind of news you're talking about can actually accomplish anything.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Dauric » Wed Oct 07, 2009 3:28 pm UTC

Belial wrote:
Dauric wrote:And so by Al's criteria:
Armadillo Al wrote:Isn't this why journalists and bloggers exist? To decipher what's actually going on in the world in a way that the general public can understand?

They're failing miserably at that purpose.


I get what you're saying, but there's a problem: that purpose absolutely is not served if you have great, integrity-laden, informative journalism that no one is watching. If no one's paying attention, it doesn't inform the populace, and it doesn't change the discourse. Because it has no effect whatsoever.

As sad as it makes me to say it, something has to change before the kind of news you're talking about can actually accomplish anything.


It's overly dramatic to say "No-One" is watching, clearly someone is watching in-depth news or shows like News Hour, Washington Week, etc. would have gone away for a lack of funding. They are on the PBS network after all, and most (better than 50%) of their funding comes from the audience, and some advertisers find it profitable to be associated with the News Hour or they wouldn't sponsor them either. National Public Radio is another source of generally level headed news and commentary, and they've been seeing an increase in their listeners, donations, and sponsors for the last decade. There -is- an audience for it.

I agree that it would have limited impact as viewers go off for an hour to the cable channels, perhaps a few people without cable would get off their butts and take a walk while the news is on improving national health, at the very least less sensationalistic reporting would reduce the amount of hysteria by not spreading more (oh by the divine how I hate hearing about H1-N1 like it will end the world. The common cold is a pandemic, that's why it's 'Common').

The media landscape is changing though, most TV news is losing their audience and perhaps having more citizen involvement stuff like legislative bills posted online will create an environment where there is more call for in-depth reporting. People might actually give a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys if, unlike in recent decades, they actually feel that they have a voice and that there's actually a reason to get involved.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Oct 07, 2009 3:53 pm UTC

Armadillo Al wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:3) 99.99% of Americans will find Congressional bills to be incomprehensible.

Isn't this why journalists and bloggers exist? To decipher what's actually going on in the world in a way that the general public can understand?


Bloggers?
Sarah Palin, your neighbor... 99.9999% of bloggers are unqualified to 'translate' legislation. All they do is google "House Bill X" and rewrite what other people have said about it.

Journalists?
Yes. There are many who are qualified to tranlaste the legislation. Matt Taibbi is someone really good at doing research on what legislation actually means.
The problem is that they get drowned out by the bloggers and hyper-partisans. The NYT, the Washington Post, the WSJ, all do great research and then a few network reports do great work, but there work gets twisted or er.. drowned out by louder voices. (See Glenn Beck, Rachel Maddow)

The solution is that the news rooms in America need to go back to "NON-PROFIT". I don't forsee this happening.

Dauric wrote:They are on the PBS network after all, and most (better than 50%) of their funding comes from the audience, and some advertisers find it profitable to be associated with the News Hour or they wouldn't sponsor them either. National Public Radio is another source of generally level headed news and commentary, and they've been seeing an increase in their listeners, donations, and sponsors for the last decade. There -is- an audience for it.


Both your sources are funded, in large part, by tax payers. I don't mind so much, but I hate blurring the line between free press and government propaganda.


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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Oct 07, 2009 3:54 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:3) 99.99% of Americans will find Congressional bills to be incomprehensible.

Okay, but among those tens of thousands of Americans who *don't* find them incomprehensible are a lot of people who should be permitted to see what our government is up to and comment on it. If some of them lie about shit like death panels, wouldn't it be better for someone else to point to the text of the bill itself when explaining that no such things will exist? If they just point to a summary, the argument will be that it's in the "small print" or somesuch that got left out of that summary.

In summary, keeping the full text secret because some people won't understand it is fucking stupid.

Ixtellor wrote:I don't mind so much, but I hate blurring the line between free press and government propaganda.

Which is why we should have more summaries available than just the one the government posts on the House and Senate websites...
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Oct 07, 2009 4:56 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:In summary, keeping the full text secret because some people won't understand it is fucking stupid.


Who said keep it secret? I just said making it public won't do anything other than create online battles between the people telling the truth and those obfuscating, with the entire public totally lost in the dark as to who is telling the truth.

I don't care if they print them prior, I am just saying it won't change anything. Its not a "check" on government in the slightest, it just comes down to spin.

What would be useful?
Congressional names attached to amendments and earmarks.

Secondly, your argument that the "summaries" are deceptive is flat. There are Republicans and Dems in office who relish nothing more than making the other side look bad and catching the other side lying. The summaries, if you know how to find them, are quite informative. The legislation is already be scrutinized by those best in a position to do so -- the only thing left missing is that they hide each others earmarks and amendments. That part is where we are missing transparency.

Lastly, the Constitution dosen't set up the legislative process to be a public process. The public is too dumb and easily manipulated. There is no right to be part of the process. The process works well inspite of the fact America is full of ignorant dumbasses. Whats missing is the accountability afterwards because of plausable deniability. (" I don't know who stuck in a $5million earmark for Haliburton")

If you want to see what happens when the Public gets to weigh in on legislation, check out California.

Funny thing with voters. They love to vote for new expensive projects and hate to vote for the taxes which would pay for those projects == the demise of democracy.

I end on a quote.

When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic -- Ben Franklin (presumably)


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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Oct 07, 2009 5:58 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:Lastly, the Constitution dosen't set up the legislative process to be a public process.

Whether it's officially set up that way or not, one of the hallmarks of modern democracy is that ordinary people can watch what their elected officials are doing. Publicizing bills on the internet seems to fit in that theme alongside having a gallery in most American congressional halls (if not all of them?) where people can watch the proceedings.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Heisenberg » Wed Oct 07, 2009 6:16 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:The public is too dumb and easily manipulated.

This is really the only valid argument against transparency. While it is probably true that having smart people do the thinking would work out better for America, we don't vote smart people into office any more, and you'll never see a legislator making this argument because it would amount to calling his constituency morons.

Also, Obama is tangentially related to this because he promised during the campaign that any and all bills passed by Congress would be available for public review on his website for a set amount of time before he signed them into law. He has failed to keep that campaign promise, so Congress taking measures to mandate transparency could be seen as necessary.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Endless Mike » Wed Oct 07, 2009 9:56 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:Here is a copy of a portion of a bill.
1) What does the bill do?
2) Does it actually accomplish what you think its trying to accomplish?

Spoiler:
SEC. 386. REDUCTION OF TAX BENEFITS FOR PROFITABLE LARGE CORPORATIONS WHICH REDUCE WORKFORCE.

`(a) In General- For any taxable year, if any profitable large corporation reduces by 15 percent or more the number of employees who perform any task or function at any facility in the United States, the amount of each facility-related tax benefit shall be reduced by 50 percent.

`(b) Definitions and Special Rules- For purposes of this section--

`(1) FACILITY-RELATED TAX BENEFIT-

`(A) IN GENERAL- The term `facility-related tax benefit' means--

`(i) any tax benefit to the extent attributable to a facility described in subsection (a), or

`(ii) to the extent that a tax benefit is not attributable to any facility, a pro rata portion of such tax benefit (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary).

`(B) EXCEPTION- Such term shall not include--

`(i) any exclusion from gross income under section 127 or 129 or any other deduction for the cost of employee health care, child care, job training, or retraining, or

`(ii) any other tax benefit (other than wages) which the Secretary determines by regulation to be a tax benefit for costs incurred primarily for the benefit of employees rather than the employer.

`(2) LARGE CORPORATION- The term `large corporation' means a corporation or partnership which is not a small-business concern (within the meaning of section 3 of the Small Business Act, as in effect on the date of the enactment of this section).

`(3) PROFITABLE- Any large corporation shall be treated as profitable, for any taxable year, if the sum of taxable income (if any) for the 5-taxable-year period ending with the preceding taxable year (or, if shorter, the period consisting of all preceding taxable years of such large corporation) equals or exceeds the sum of the net operating losses (if any) attributable to such period.

`(4) RELATED PERSONS-

`(A) IN GENERAL- All related persons shall be treated as one person.

`(B) RELATED PERSONS DEFINED- The term `related persons' means--

`(i) persons bearing a relationship described in section 267 or 707(b), and

`(ii) persons treated as a single employer under subsection (a) or (b) of section 52.

`(5) TAX BENEFIT- The term `tax benefit' means a credit, deduction, or exclusion allowable under this title.'

(b) Transmission of Data by Secretary of Labor- The Secretary of Labor shall transmit to the Secretary of the Treasury, not less than annually, a list of corporations and partnerships described in section 386(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (as added by this section).

(c) Clerical Amendment- The table of parts for subchapter C of chapter 1 of such Code is amended by adding at the end the following new item:



Ixtellor

1) If a large company that is making money cuts their workforce at a given facility by 15% or more, then their tax benefits at that facility are cut in half. It excludes tax benefits for things such as healthcare and other benefits that are intended to benefit the employees rather than the business.
2) Without reading the preambles and such, I would assume that the intent is to prevent companies from cutting jobs and decreasing customer care (...but mostly the first one) to improve on profits. At that point, it becomes a pretty simple number game. They can cut right up to 14.999% of their employees at a given facility and not be hurt. Then the following year cut more, if desired. It probably accomplishes it to an extent, but certainly people will still be layed off if a company so desires.

Of course, a large part of my job is interpreting federal regulations, so I've gotten used to how they're written and even still get confused or find gray areas or overlaps and so on.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby The Reaper » Wed Oct 07, 2009 10:33 pm UTC

Can we force them to write the things in computer code and then force them to compile it afterwards, and then send it back through the entire process again if it doesn't compile correctly. BUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby ParanoidDrone » Wed Oct 07, 2009 11:08 pm UTC

"Breaking News: The vote on the latest bill has been delayed due to a segfault."

That'd be awesome to watch.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Ixtellor » Thu Oct 08, 2009 1:46 pm UTC

FOX news did a segment this morning -- after reading the bill with an expert -- it turns out the bill puts a massive tax on new mothers.

The question becomes, will your typical dumbass American be able to tell if thats true or not.

Enjoy at once.

Heisenberg wrote:we don't vote smart people into office any more


I mostly disagree. If you ever get face time with a Congressman you will find they are pretty well informed. I think the confusion comes in distingishing what they know with what they are saying. Talking to voters is not like talking to smart people, and politicians are experts at talking to voters. Congressman understand the new bill doesn't tax mommies, they just say that to win elections. (or they are evil) Evil is !stupid.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Vaniver » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:02 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:1) Obama controls the executive Branch, not Congress. He has nothing to do with this.
He could put teeth into his promise by vetoing any bill which had not been available for the time he requested it be available.

Wait, I forgot, Obama's not a substance kind of guy.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Endless Mike » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:09 pm UTC

That would be a great way to ensure that nothing gets done.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:13 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:FOX news did a segment this morning -- after reading the bill with an expert -- it turns out the bill puts a massive tax on new mothers.

The question becomes, will your typical dumbass American be able to tell if thats true or not.

And the only alternative you can think of is to keep the actual text of the bill secret? So even atypical smart Americans can't find out for themselves whether that's true or not? How the fuck is that better?
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Ixtellor » Thu Oct 08, 2009 3:50 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:FOX news did a segment this morning -- after reading the bill with an expert -- it turns out the bill puts a massive tax on new mothers.

The question becomes, will your typical dumbass American be able to tell if thats true or not.

And the only alternative you can think of is to keep the actual text of the bill secret? So even atypical smart Americans can't find out for themselves whether that's true or not? How the fuck is that better?


I apologize,I am not being clear.

Of all the things that would create more transparency and giver greater scrutiny and accountiblity to government...
Posting the bills online 72 hours prior is probably the least useful. I have tried to explain why it is useless.

Its like trying to end the war in Iraq by cutting funding to universites who research Kevlar. There are much much better ways to achieve your transparency goals. The fact congress has people worked up over this is just a distraction to avoid getting real transparency.

So why is congress against this? Because they know it will result in them being flooded with email from morons who read a misprepresenation of the bill. Its not about keeping secrets, its about wasting time combating "death panels!!".

You have X amount of political capital, do you really want to spend it on a useless smokescreen?

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Heisenberg » Thu Oct 08, 2009 6:24 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:You have X amount of political capital, do you really want to spend it on a useless smokescreen?

In this case "smokescreen" means "explaining to your constituents what the bill does." I would not consider that useless. I would prefer our politicians to spend their political capital on that rather than on cleverly obfuscated discretionary spending.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Ixtellor » Thu Oct 08, 2009 7:20 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:You have X amount of political capital, do you really want to spend it on a useless smokescreen?

In this case "smokescreen" means "explaining to your constituents what the bill does." I would not consider that useless. I would prefer our politicians to spend their political capital on that rather than on cleverly obfuscated discretionary spending.


If you want your congressman to explain a bill to you, call them up. They all have large staffs that do nothing but consituency support. The problem being if they are a R or D, they will probably skew the bill.

You reading a bill wont' tell you anything about the bill. You have to be a mega-expert with a lot of time on your hands to get to the truth of what a bill will/won't do.

Again, there is a false impression that if you can read the bill they can't obfuscate the spending, and thats totally not true. More importantly they can claim deniability even if you do catch an earmark. So they can't lose and your in the dark still.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby tzvibish » Thu Oct 08, 2009 7:32 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:
Heisenberg wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:You have X amount of political capital, do you really want to spend it on a useless smokescreen?

In this case "smokescreen" means "explaining to your constituents what the bill does." I would not consider that useless. I would prefer our politicians to spend their political capital on that rather than on cleverly obfuscated discretionary spending.


If you want your congressman to explain a bill to you, call them up. They all have large staffs that do nothing but consituency support. The problem being if they are a R or D, they will probably skew the bill.

You reading a bill wont' tell you anything about the bill. You have to be a mega-expert with a lot of time on your hands to get to the truth of what a bill will/won't do.

Again, there is a false impression that if you can read the bill they can't obfuscate the spending, and thats totally not true. More importantly they can claim deniability even if you do catch an earmark. So they can't lose and your in the dark still.

Ixtellor

Or, a little more concisely, letting people see a bill is a political move to show people how 'transparent' you are without actually being transparent.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Heisenberg » Thu Oct 08, 2009 8:31 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:If you want your congressman to explain a bill to you, call them up. They all have large staffs that do nothing but consituency support. The problem being if they are a R or D, they will probably skew the bill.
Yes, they do pay people to market the bill to you. Personally, I like to read a contract before I sign it, even if the guy trying to sell me something tells me not to worry about it. I know that being a reader puts me in the minority, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't have the option of reading important documents.
Ixtellor wrote:You reading a bill wont' tell you anything about the bill. You have to be a mega-expert with a lot of time on your hands to get to the truth of what a bill will/won't do.
False. And once again, "You're all idiots" is not an argument the opponents of this bill are making.
Ixtellor wrote:Again, there is a false impression that if you can read the bill they can't obfuscate the spending, and thats totally not true. More importantly they can claim deniability even if you do catch an earmark. So they can't lose and your in the dark still.
No, there's a logical extension here you left out. If you, as my congressmen, earmark money for "assault-rifle distribution," and I see it, you are correct that you can lie to me and say "I had nothing to do with that." However, by giving people the option to read it, we can say "We're against assault rifle distribution, so vote against this bill." Hey look, the voters have power, and when informed, they can make decisions.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby MrGee » Fri Oct 09, 2009 12:06 am UTC

Ixtellor wrote:I apologize,I am not being clear.

Of all the things that would create more transparency and giver greater scrutiny and accountiblity to government...
Posting the bills online 72 hours prior is probably the least useful. I have tried to explain why it is useless.


I can't think of anything better, really.

I may not be a mega-expert on legalese, but I still have a brain. Given the text of the bill and two annotations offering different interpretations, I have a statistically significant chance of realizing that one is full of shit.

It's like Linux. The majority of users wouldn't be able to catch a problem by looking at the source code, but there are easily enough fact-checkers that no one is going to slip a Trojan into the OS.

Open-source the government yes/no??

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby apeman5291 » Fri Oct 09, 2009 12:35 am UTC

MrGee wrote:Open-source the government yes/no??

Ixtellor wrote:You reading a bill wont' tell you anything about the bill. You have to be a mega-expert with a lot of time on your hands to get to the truth of what a bill will/won't do.
Anybody who's read Shakespeare can make sense out of Congressional language. It's not like it's a foreign language.
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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby Ixtellor » Fri Oct 09, 2009 1:42 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:No, there's a logical extension here you left out. If you, as my congressmen, earmark money for "assault-rifle distribution," and I see it, you are correct that you can lie to me and say "I had nothing to do with that." However, by giving people the option to read it, we can say "We're against assault rifle distribution, so vote against this bill." Hey look, the voters have power, and when informed, they can make decisions.


1) So when the congressman says "Someone inserted an amendment to equip the troops in Afghanistan with superior assault weapons to better deal with the weather and vision condidtions... " what will the publics action be?

2) I think the large disconnect here is that people who read bills and complain and voters are two distinctly different groups of people. Why on earth would any Congressman be accountable to some wonky nerd who took the time to read the bill? The easiest response is just spin the bill the other way. Or do what most congressman do IGNORE you.
A congressman could vote for anything and everything they wanted and still easily win reelection.
Ever heard of gerrymandering and safe districts? House members average a 95% and Senators average about 85% reelection rates.

Even in our massive upheavel of government elections last year: House members won reelection at 94% and the Senate was 83%.

Heisenberg wrote:We're against assault rifle distribution, so vote against this bill


Deluded much? You and few smart people are against assault rifles and [Insert any issue here]. The vast majority of people vote according to just two criteria. Partisanship and Economic situation.

People who complain rarely vote. The only reason Barack won the election is because we are in a recession -- your independant voters don't give a flying fuck about any of the rest of it. Want to guess who wins the next election - its easy as fucking pie - look at the economy. If the economy goes up Obama wins, if it continues to go down, then any Republican will beat him. I'll bet you can guess who win your House or Senate seat with a more than 85% probability.

There is some bizarre rationalization that if only you could read the bills then the 295 million dumbasses called voters would suddenly see the light and start holding their representatives accountable and stop voting according to party ideology.

tzvibish wrote:Or, a little more concisely, letting people see a bill is a political move to show people how 'transparent' you are without actually being transparent.


Thank you.

Ok so now you smarties can read the bills (you are deluded if you think they can't alter than language to confuse you). So its your word versus Congressman X, Rush Limbaugh, and Barack Obama about what the bill will really do.
Maybe if your angry blog is... angry enough... they will start listening to you.
Maybe if you print out all the charts and diagrams you can go to the local Walmart and convince voters looking for "Larry the Cable Guy" movies, that they need to call up their congressman and demand action!!

You live in an undemocratic society run by incumbants. The only possible way to lose the election is
Scandal, Retire, and Major political shifts -- ALWAYS prompted by bad economies.

And of the hundreds of things you could do to correct this situation: you fee like debating Rush Limbaugh what the phrase "Assult rifle distribution" really means is going to change all that?

If you want to see actual accountability in Government.
If you really really want to change government and make it accountable and more transparent --
Remove the ability of State Legislatures to draw congressional districts. Take that corruption away from elected officials and put it into the hands of independant/neutral 3rd parties. This is my number one issue in Texas and so far we have a bipartisan proposal on the table that has minor (read very minor) traction.

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Re: Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online

Postby apeman5291 » Fri Oct 09, 2009 4:10 pm UTC

Ixtellor: I can see how you're arguing that posting bills online might be useless. Whether or not that's the case is still up for debate. However, even if it's useless, all government transparency would become is a lateral move. But for some reason, you're making the point that posting bills online is a bad thing. So how is that bad, exactly? What about allowing the public to see the text of a bill online would hurt the democratic process? From what you're saying, people who can understand the bill are benefited, and people who can't are left no better or no worse than before. So overall, it's a positive change. Why shouldn't we post bills online?
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