June 23, 2010 - Issue: Vol. 156, No. 95 — Daily Edition111th Congress (2009 - 2010) - 2nd Session
SUBMITTED RESOLUTIONS; Congressional Record Vol. 156, No. 95
(Senate - June 23, 2010)
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[Pages S5322-S5323] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] SUBMITTED RESOLUTIONS ______ SENATE RESOLUTION 562--TO INCREASE TRANSPARENCY BY REQUIRING SENATE AMENDMENTS TO BE MADE AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC IN A TIMELY MANNER Mr. GRASSLEY submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration: S. Res. 562 Resolved, SECTION 1. AVAILABILITY TO THE PUBLIC. Not later than 6 months after the date of adoption of this resolution, the Secretary of the Senate shall make the Senate amendment database (ats.senate.gov or a similar amendment database) available to the public on a public website in a manner that will allow the public to view amendments as soon as they are made widely available to Members of Congress and staff. SEC. 2. UPGRADES TO THE WEBSITE. Not later than 6 months after the date of adoption of this resolution, the Secretary of the Senate shall improve the Senate amendment website and any other amendment website made available to the public by ensuring that-- (1) all amendments are scanned and posted on the website in their entirety; (2) all submitted amendments have their purpose inputted when they are entered into the website; (3) all amendments are identified on the website as first degree or second degree and by what bill or amendment they are offered, if available; (4) all amendments on the website have the dates they were submitted, proposed, and disposed of; and (5) all amendments and any associated metadata are permanently available on the website or the Legislative Information System (LIS)/THOMAS sites. SEC. 3. FUNDING. It is the sense of the Senate that appropriations should be made available through the appropriations process to carry out this resolution. Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, I address my colleagues for the purpose of submitting a resolution that will bring about greater transparency in government. I think my colleagues know I have a long history in promoting this sort of transparency. I believe the more people are aware of what we are doing in the Senate and the Congress, or in Washington generally, the more accountable we are. The more accountable we are, the better job we will do. I hope everybody agrees that is a pretty simple concept. Today, the purpose I come to the Senate floor is to submit a resolution that will improve transparency in this body and hold us all more accountable to the people we serve; in other words, reminding the people that we work for them; they do not work for us. This resolution requires the Secretary of the Senate to make filed amendments publicly available as soon as they are made available to Members and staff. I will show, in just a minute, that they are almost immediately made available to Members and staff. So why not the public? In this day and age you would think this was already happening. We live in a world of 24-hour news. We live in a world of instant coverage over the Internet of just about everything. Yet we have not been allowing the general public to get this information real time. My proposal would add more transparency to how the Senate works and what we are debating on the Senate floor. Some might question whether this is necessary. Under the current system, the public is usually able to see an amendment the next day in the Congressional Record. So I want to say why that is not good enough. In many cases, that may simply be too late. Under the current system, the public may not be able to see the amendment until after debate has begun or even [[Page S5323]] after the Senate has already voted. This would be even more common during some of the controversial debates that stretch late into the evening. You might remember the late evening votes we had on health care reform last December and again in March where hundreds of amendments were filed and votes were cast well past midnight. In fact, today we make the vote count public on the Internet within an hour of when a vote takes place. But we might not be able to make the substance of what we voted on available until the next day. So we let the public see how we voted, but we do not always let them see what we voted on. Of course, that does not make sense. Just last night, Members tried to call up and pass various amendments. But only the most experienced Washington insider would have been able to actually find copies of those amendments. Shouldn't we have some kind of searchable system for amendments to allow our constituents the same access to information that some seasoned lobbyist or some seasoned congressional staffer has? Don't we want to give our constituents a chance to see the amendments before we vote on them, if they are interested in reading them? Don't we want to know what our constituents think about amendments before we vote on them? In order for that to happen, they have to know what those amendments are that have been filed. Of course, I am not talking about an amendment that might change a word here or a word there--although those should be publicly available as well. Some amendments I am talking about are hundreds of pages long and even constitute a complete rewrite of an underlying bill. Today, we will likely see our fifth version of the extenders bill that is now the pending business on the floor of the Senate, and that fifth version would be in the form of an amendment. But our constituents may not be able to see that until tomorrow. Shouldn't the public be able to see that amendment as soon as we Members or our staffs can read that amendment? This is a representative system of government, and it is impossible to represent the American people if they do not have access to the same information we have. In addition to those who will question whether this is necessary, others might wonder whether it is even possible, like technically possible. In fact, we are already doing it. That is right. The amendments are already available electronically to Senate offices almost immediately after they are filed, but they are not available to the public--not necessarily intentionally hidden from the public, but the public cannot get them like everybody in the Senate and in our offices can get them. I have a chart in the Chamber that shows there is already an Amendment Tracking System Web site that is only available to Members of Congress and staff. It provides a copy of the amendment, the purpose of the amendment, the sponsor of the amendment, and the status of that amendment. My resolution is this simple: It would simply make this or a similar Web site available to the public, much like already is done with the Legislative Information System site or the Thomas site at the Library of Congress. That way, the public gets to see exactly what we Members and our staffs are seeing almost immediately after filing. They get the same information and can provide their input prior to a vote. There is a lot of distrust of government these days. People believe Congress is ignoring what the public thinks and what the public wants. Some of this is the result of the policies that are being considered around here. But it also has to do with the lack of transparency and accountability in government. I am not saying this resolution is going to fix all that is wrong with that distrust that is expressed--because it will not--but this resolution is one more step toward letting a little more sunshine into this Chamber. This straightforward resolution will increase transparency, it will promote accountability, and it will make us all better representatives of the people we serve. I hope the Senate will consider this resolution at some point in the near future, and I also urge my colleagues to support it. The public deserves access to this information on the same basis as those of us who are closely connected to this institution--meaning the Members and our staffs. ____________________