Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Read the Bill

It's that every-two-years time again. The Texas legislature is set to meet. Its biggest challenge is to close a projected $20 billion budget gap. I'll let Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) explain how the legislators will work their magic:

"Every session, the Texas Senate passes one version of the budget and the House of Representatives passes another. At that point, a few legislators are appointed to what's known as a Conference Committee, and they get together (often behind closed doors) to add some spending and programs to the budget, remove some investment that some folks care about, and make other changes. Then, after a month or so of work, the Conference Committee report - which is basically the final draft of the budget - gets filed in both the Senate and the House. And legislators, advocates, the media, and other Texans generally have about 48 hours, if that, to sort through an almost 1,000 page document. Even with the best of intentions and effort, folks are left scrambling to discover what's been changed, added, subtracted, divided or multiplied as they try to figure out how lots of money covering lots of items - more than $180 billion in the current budget (which includes $87 billion in discretionary money) - will be spent."

After the jump, Senator Watson's simple suggestion for improving the process.

"Well, if we're going to really reform the process and honor the right of Texans to know what their government is doing by making sure budget and fiscal information is readily and widely available, a simple first step would be to give everyone just a little more time - let's take five days, a simple 'business week' - to make sure we're comfortable with this Conference Committee budget."

Sounds reasonable, right? And it should get overwhelming bipartisan support, at least if the following quotes from prominent Republicans in Washington regarding the federal health care reform legislation from last year are any guide.

"No one - not one single member of Congress - has read the bill that Democratic leadership is bringing up for a vote today. We expect it may take a while, but members of Congress, and - more importantly - the American people have a right to know what the House is voting on."
-- Spokesman for Congressman John Boehner

"Americans are outraged when they find out members vote on bills they've never read. Voters deserve to know their elected officials are going through every bill to stop waste, fraud and abuse and ensure bad policy doesn't become law. Health care is too important an issue to rush through without honest and open debate."
-- Spokesman for Senator Jim DeMint

"Every American has the right to know exactly what Congress plans to do with their healthcare before a bill passes. Members of Congress and Americans alike should have the opportunity to READ THE BILL before a vote."
-- Congressman Pete Sessions

"Senator Bunning and I proposed a 72-hour waiting period before we could vote on the bill in Committee. ... I cannot support a bill that will increase the costs of health care, and which is being rushed through Congress without giving Americans the opportunity to learn what it would mean for them."
-- Senator John Cornyn

Republicans in complete control of the Texas legislature now have a chance to prove they really meant it when they demand completely open, honest and accountable government. Members of the public who were critical of how Democrats ran things in Washington (I'm thinking of you, Tea Partyers) have a chance to hold Republicans in Austin to their promise of transparency. That is, if it wasn't all posturing and politicking. Prove it by supporting Senator Kirk Watson's amendment to Senate rules to make the final version of the budget available to the public for at least five days before passage.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

Excerpt from press release by Sen. Kirk Watson: The Texas Senate on Wednesday adopted an important part of Senator Watson's Honesty Agenda for fiscal transparency in the state, voting to require a vital budget document to be public for 48 hours before senators finish their work on the Texas budget. "This new window into the Texas budget is a good step forward," said Senator Kirk Watson, a strong advocate for budget openness and honesty in Texas government.