After voting to institute a ban on earmarks, the House GOP Conference is now faced with an overhaul of how Republican members — and, ultimately, the House of Representatives — will do business in the 112th Congress. The conference vote, taking place Wednesday, will show American taxpayers how serious the new majority will be in changing the bias towards bigger government and higher spending.
For their part, House Republican leadership has shown a strong commitment to stemming the growth of government. The recent abolition of earmarks, a subject absent from their Pledge to America, demonstrates that voters have reason to believe the reforms listed therein will serve as the baseline, and not as an exhaustive list, of reforms that will be suggested.
One proposal that is listed in the pledge is a waiting period for legislation, one of the fourteen ways Americans for Tax Reform has suggested the government reduce spending. Republican Leader Boehner has been vocal about changing the way Congress is able to legislate at lightning-fast speed by promoting a 72-hour waiting period for all bills before they can get a vote on the House floor. This idea would ultimately stem government growth wrought at the hands of sly lawmakers by subjecting the monstrous bills they concoct to the light of day.
The savings from simply slowing down the lawmaking process could be huge — nowhere is the warning that “haste makes waste” more evident than in the dealings of the 111th Congress. The “stimulus” bill, with a running price tag of debt and spending closing in at $1 trillion, was whipped through Congress at the speed of light — not a single member voting for the monstrosity could verify they actually read the bill. The inevitable — and perhaps feigned — outrage that followed when members learned they had passed legislation allowing recently bailed-out AIG executives to keep their bonuses was telling in more ways than one.
The healthcare bill and the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House last June also tell similar stories. Behemoths amounting to over a thousand pages each, both bills were laden with sweeteners snuck into the bills to ensure passage. The cap-and-trade legislation wasn’t even cobbled together when a final vote took place, thanks to the late-night airdrop of a manager’s amendment totaling over 300 pages — designed, of course, to cement last-minute Democrat votes.
The healthcare bill fared no different. If taxpayers hadn’t been leery before of the increasing opacity of the 111th, they were made acutely aware of the majority’s allergy to transparency after Speaker Pelosi’s now-famous claim that the bill had to be passed so that Americans could “find out what is in it.”
In each case, taxpayers have been left to foot the bill for laws that become increasingly less popular as Americans learn more about them. The midterm elections, which were a referendum on big government, were fueled by the majority’s aversion to not only listening to the American voters, but also their antipathy towards allowing taxpayers to be involved in their government.
The 72-hour waiting period, then, would do more than just give lawmakers a proper amount of time to read legislation. It would give taxpayers the warranted opportunity to actually investigate the legislative injustices forced upon them by Congress, and raise concerns with their elected officials. More than that, transparency in the legislative process would serve as an antidote to these mammoth bills.
The ability to push bills through without scrutiny has made lawmakers loath to write short and simple legislation. Instead, with no one watching what goes into them, bills are crafted with arcane language and stuffed to the gills with pork and other perks. After all, one man’s earmark is another man’s kickback and Washington’s backscratchers are hardly compelled to endanger their friend’s pork if their sweetheart deal would be affected. Elected officials, however, are a bit more sensitive to their constituents’ scrutiny. Knowing that the taxpayers who are footing the bill for their spending are watching, they will be hesitant to continue to expand the burden of government on the backs of their constituents.
Putting pending legislation online serves as a warning to policymakers that taxpayers are watching…and reading to see what Congress thinks they can get past the American public. A new Congress with new leadership on transparency affords a unique opportunity — House GOP members of Congress should take this opportunity to signal that the 112th will embrace openness in the legislative process and that this leadership will have nothing to hide.
Mattie Corrao is government affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform.