Talkin' 'Bout Transparency

Mary Katharine Ham
|
Posted: Jan 31, 2006 2:30 PM

Just got back from Baltimore. Unfortunately, the press room was pretty dead today, mostly because Donald Rumsfeld was the lunch speaker, and everyone hopped on a bus for Washington after that.

But I did get to speak with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for a few minutes after lunch. I didn't realize it, but he's working on one of my favorite issues-- making legislation available online before floor votes.

This is one of these issues that amazes people outside the Beltway. When I tell folks that Congressmen and their staffers spend BILLIONS of their dollars, sometimes without ever seeing (not to mention, reading) the legislation, they look at me with a look of blissful, innocent surprise and confusion. "Surely," they think to themselves, rather reasonably, "a Congressman cannot make an informed decision about which way to vote without having a look at the legislation first. That can't be true, what she's telling me."

I assure them that it is true. They generally walk away from the conversation, innocence shattered, faces fallen, and greatly discouraged about further participation in the democratic process. Which is, of course, just the thing that will keep this practice going.

But folks like King would like to change that by making legislation available online before floor votes. He comes up against resistance from folks bogged down in the parliamentary procedure-- people who say it's just too much to try to do. King, rightly, says that in this day and age, with the technology we have, there's no excuse for bills not going online before votes, in searchable format.

People who are against this kind of thing, as far as I can tell, are long-time Hill people who just think these bills are too massive and the process too arduous to be worth pleasing the relatively small number of people who would be interested in reading them. Either that, or they have things to hide in legislation and would like to continue hiding them. The first excuse speaks to the already out-of-hand size of government, and the second to an element of dishonesty in government. Both problems are exacerbated by refusing to make the process more visible.

King's going to send me some more information about what he and others are doing on this front, but it sounds promising. Anything that can move the U.S. Congress toward transparency is a good thing-- particularly online, searchable transparency, which would appeal to bloggers of diverse striae.

And, King seems to understand the blogging personality. He talked of getting bills, amendments, earmarks, even travel details online and out in the open, so that bloggers and their readers can get a look at them and judge for themselves. Sounds fun to me. I have walls in my apartment more transparent than the Congress. And I don't say that lightly, because I have those good, old-fashioned plaster walls, which make a jack-hammer a necessary home appliance for the picture-hanging tenant. None of this flimsy, dry-wall for me.

The Internet puts transparency in government at every Americans' fingertips. The blogosphere gives us the people dedicated enough to sift through it all to find the good, bad, and ugly. Folks like King know this. As a result, they are willing to fight to make it possible. Others in Congress know the same thing, but will fight against it for exactly the same reason. Let's hope the "ayes" prevail, because they are on the side of the American citizen.

On Chinook toys:

Rumsfeld was off-the-record, and I didn't hear much of him, but I did hear him mention a story that is already public information, but I hadn't heard anything about until today.

Apparently, the Army's senior officer has said that the most popular toy in Pakistan right now is a little, plastic Chinook helicopter. Why? Because American forces brought in so many supplies on those choppers after the devastating earthquake there.

I couldn't find this story anywhere but the Army Times, but it's interesting. I wonder where the information comes from. It could just be a sunny, PR story without a lot of meat behind it, but it also could be entirely true and just a little too sunny for the MSM to find worth reporting. I wonder which it is.

I have a hunch that if it weren't true, there would have been a huge expose in the NYT by now about the fact that Pakistani children play with little Osama action figures because they detest the U.S. just. that. much.

On the Leadership race:

Mike Pence thought the time at the RSC Retreat might have changed some minds . The vote is Thursday at 1 p.m. Brendan Miniter thinks the President's SOTU will be a blow to Blunt.