Proposal Gives 48-Hour Window to Post Panel Votes

Posted March 12, 2007 at 6:31pm

Under a rules change proposed last week by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), committees would be required to post recorded votes on their Web sites within 48 hours, a move the Congressman said would increase transparency of the entire legislative process.

The measure, referred to the House Rules Committee, would allow constituents, interest groups, journalists and others to have one easy place to look up recent committee actions, a Sessions aide said Monday.

“This resolution will empower constituents with a comprehensive view of every Member’s full voting record,” Sessions said in a statement. “The Democrat majority should implement its campaign-trail promises of providing sunshine and transparency in the legislative process.”

While transparency might be the buzzword for the bill, the legislation itself stems from an ongoing fracas that has been lingering since January in the Rules Committee, of which Sessions is a member.

When Democrats took over the panel, one of their first moves was to eliminate a requirement that all votes taken in Rules be immediately included in the Congressional Record. Since then, Republicans on the committee have decried the action as shielding votes from the public, and ranking member David Dreier (R-Calif.) even sponsored legislation to overturn the change.

But Democrats continue to deny those claims, saying the change was made to allow for staff to finish committee reports with greater ease.

“This was something that they were just trying to [use to] accuse us of a lack of openness,” a Rules aide said. “If they could say we are trying to hide votes, that would portray us in a hypocritical light.”

Under the old rules, if there is a small error in a committee report, the minority could kill the recently passed rule, the Rules aide said. And because Rules staff must submit its reports within 30 minutes of a committee vote (other committees have up to three days), staffers were under a lot of pressure to get things right.

The change helps the committee staff do its reports with a little less pressure, the aide added.

Eventually, everything is made public, the aide said, with most action taken in committee posted to the Rules Web site soon after.

“Just rationally speaking, there’s no conceivable reason why we would hide a vote,” the aide said. “It’s never been an issue. There’s never been a vote that wasn’t fully public.”

Sessions said his plan would dramatically increase accountability for all committees, “giving voters a timely, centralized and modern communication medium to access a Member’s full voting record — not just votes taken on the House floor.”

Echoed a Sessions aide: “It’s real simple. Real straightforward. Just get it up there for people to see it.”

Of course, some Web sites are better than others, and one challenge would be for committees themselves to increase their Web capabilities. But the Sessions aide said that shouldn’t pose too big of a problem, claiming, “This is some pretty rudimentary stuff.”

Supporters expect to have about 50 co-sponsors sign onto the bill and had gathered 37 as of Monday afternoon.

Whether the bill will be heard in committee remains up in the air.

“Part of the oversight responsibility for the Rules Committee is to periodically review disclosure,” Rules spokesman John Santore said Monday. “If we become aware of it being an issue, then it becomes a job of the committee to address it.”