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Monday, January 16, 2006

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Shadegg Endorses Internet Posting of Bills 72 Hours Before Votes, IDing Earmark Seekers

Hugh Hewitt popped a couple of interesting questions to Rep. John Shadegg, R-AZ, who has announced his candidacy for House Majority Leader, and received some answers that ought to go over well with everybody who wants to see more transparency and accountability in government, starting with Congress.

Here's the transcript of the exchange earlier today on Hugh's Talk Radio show on two questions in which I had a particular interest. Note especially toward the end of the exchange Shadegg's reading of the Contract with America's often-overlooked transparency provisions:

"HH: From Mark Tapscott, my colleague in the blogging business at the Heritage Foundation, comes some questions. Will you introduce and support a proposal to require all earmarks be identified by the name of the requesting member?

"JS: I think my answer to that question is yes. I haven't given...I have not formed by specific earmark proposal, but we cannot have earmarks put in where you do not know who they benefit, or where you do not know why they're being done, and where they can't be debated. "My understanding is that most...well, many earmarks, at least the ones that are abusive, are snuck in, in the dark of night, often by, quite frankly, some powerful members, and rank and file members don't even know about them.

"One of the problems with the earmarks is that as this question suggests, the earmarks don't even often, at least in some instances, you cannot find out from the bill itself who benefitted by the earmark, because the language goes into what's called report language, and it's not in the bill itself.
"And my colleague, Jeff Flake, has a bill to make sure that you simply can't do that, because right now, if we go to the floor and we try to strike an earmark, and force the proponent of that earmark to come out and defend it, it turns out the earmark is in the report language, and it's impossible to strike it, or even to force a debate on it.

"HH: Would you support, again a Tapscott question, a proposal to require legislation to be posted on the internet, say 72 hours prior to a vote, so that the American public can see what's in there?

"JS: Absolutely, absent, I supposed, the closing days of the session, where you might have to have a limited exemption to that. We have a rule that we waive all the time, that requires a 3-day holdover period before a measure can be voted upon.
"And it is when...quite frankly, when we waive that rule to try to get out of town at the end, when we have seen some of the worst abuses of that. But we don't just waive it at the end of the session, we waive it all the time.
"So I believe that there should be the greatest amount of sunshine possible in this process, and I want to make the point, Hugh. When I got elected in 1994 as a part of the revolutionary class of 1994, we based our campaign on two things: one, we were going to shrink the size and scope of government.
"We were going to reduce spending, we were going to cut taxes. We were going to decrease regulation. We were going to increase local responsibility. We were going to increase individual responsibility, and individual freedom, and of course, keep a strong national defense.
"But there was a second plank in that promise, and that was to clean up the backroom deals, to stop the ability of members to sneak language in, in the middle of the night, or to use their position of power to try to benefit themselves or their cronies.
"And the scandals of late, particularly the Cunningham scandal, demonstrates that we've failed in that. It's not just bad actors. We have procedures that those bad actors can take advantage of.

"HH: You're absolutely right."

Finally, somebody on the GOP side of Congress remembers that the Contract with America included some strong provisions designed to end the backroom deals and closed-door bargaining sessions that so marked Congress in the years before 1994!

You can hear the entire transcript of the Hewitt-Shadegg conversation here. For more information on Shadegg, go here to his official web site.

It cannot be said too often: Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Now, let's see what Shadegg thinks about applying the Freedom of Information Act to Congress!

UPDATE: And Now We Know

Not sure how I missed this yesterday but Hugh Hewitt asked Shadegg about applying FOIA to Congress and did it in exactly the right context - when the Arizona congressman said he was an active proponent of applying to Congress the laws it applies to everybody else.

Here is the exchange:

"JB: I'm the guy that carried the bill that would require Congress live under all the laws that we expect all other Americans to live under.

"HH: Would that be part of your opening salvo, if you were elected leader as well, the put Congress under the laws it passes?

"JB: That is the law today. We changed that rule in January of 1995, on the opening day of the first Republican Congress in forty years.

"HH: Well, of course, FOIA doesn't apply to Congress. Ought FOIA to apply to Congress?

"JB: Good question. FOIA is a law Congress passed for the executive branch. And because we do have, in fact, a separation of powers issue, I'm not sure that it's appropriately applied to Congress.

"HH: Well, a lot of people would love to see what you guys are sending out in your mail to your constituents. And you know, I support transparency in everything. And so, are you open to FOIA being extended to the Congress?

"JB: Well, I'm open to it, but private correspondence between...there's privacy issue. When we deal with our constituents, and we're answering their questions, there's a privacy issue that we need to be sensitive to.

"HH: How about communications between a Congressman and the agencies?

"JB: That would be fine. Open it right up."

I'm not sure I would classify Shadegg's response as a waffle in the same manner as the Boehner waffle detailed here, but I am curious about your take on Shadegg's comment visavis the separation of powers argument.

Also, Shadegg is correct to note the privacy concerns. The FOIA includes nine significant exceptions, including such areas as national security, law enforcement, commercial secrets and personal privacy. There is no reason application of FOIA to Congress would obviate any of the existing exemptions.