Senator John ThuneWhen I visit communities throughout our state, I am always proud of the attention that South Dakotans pay to the national issues that are being debated in Congress. Similarly, the letters, phone calls, and emails to my office show that South Dakotans are very engaged in the discussion about the future direction of our nation. As an elected representative, I believe that Members of Congress not only have a duty to provide the most accurate information to constituents, but also to be familiar with the details of major legislation.
I support an effort currently underway to change the U.S. Senate Rules so that all legislation is available online for at least 72 hours before it is considered by any Senate committee or debated on the Senate floor. The change would also require that any legislation's cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office be posted along with the text of the legislation. Unfortunately, this common sense idea is meeting strong resistance. Amazingly, when the Senate Finance committee considered their health care bill earlier this month, the Democrats on the Committee defeated an amendment by a single vote that would have required greater public transparency.
When the Senate was out of session this past August, I traveled extensively throughout South Dakota, meeting with people in coffee shops and places of business. I also hosted town hall meetings in Watertown, Aberdeen, Huron, and Rapid City. At both these informal visits and town hall meetings, I heard from South Dakotans who are discouraged by the complexity of the legislative process and its lack of transparency - including how the Democrat majority has rushed to pass measures such as the $787 billion Stimulus bill and the controversial Cap and Trade bill in the House of Representatives.
People are justifiably frustrated with the sad reality that in a growing number of instances, Members of Congress do not have adequate time to review the details of legislation before votes. While this is a much larger problem in the House of Representatives because the majority party can rush through measures without substantive debate, the Senate is less prone to such tactics. Nonetheless, due to the fact that major pieces of legislation, such as the health care reform bill, are being crafted behind closed doors, I support changing the Senate Rules so that bills would be posted online could alleviate some of these problems.
Many South Dakotans remember how the $787 billion economic stimulus bill was rushed through Congress before many Members of Congress, let alone the American people, could fully understand all that the bill contained. There is justifiable concern that a health care reform bill could be similarly rushed through. This style of legislating does a disservice to Members of Congress and dangerously undermines the principles of our representative republic.
We are blessed to live in an age where technology allows for new levels of government transparency and openness. Still, it appears some elected representatives are not concerned with the public's ability to read legislation before it is considered and voted on, let alone the ability of most Members of Congress to be familiar with it. Posting legislative language and Congressional Budget Office cost estimates online would be a simple change that Congress could make to ensure more transparency and inspire more confidence among the American people. Major issues like health care reform, the regulation of greenhouse gasses, and our nation's budget fiscal are too important to be debated in the dark.