Eric Cantor’s “Read the Bill” Pledge

Future House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has pledged to put legislation up on the web three days before members vote on it. Former Mother Jones fellow Michael Beckel (now of OpenSecrets) reports:

“Bills are often quite complex and can be lengthy,” [Cantor spokesman Brad] Dayspring told OpenSecrets Blog. “The three-day rule prior to bringing a bill to the floor is already in House Rules. The Democrats, however, waived it time and time again—we will not.”

Transparency advocates like the Center for Responsive Politics, which runs OpenSecrets, have long pushed for stronger “read the bill” enforcement. But as I’ve pointed out before (in a post Beckel kindly links to), simply putting bills online isn’t enough:

Better ‘read the bill’ reform would start, I think, with extending to all of Congress the Senate Finance Committee’s tradition of debating and voting on bills written in ‘conceptual language’—otherwise known as plain English. If that was the standard for what was being voted on and discussed and posted on the web in advance, ordinary people and members of Congress (and journalists, for that matter) would be much more likely to actually understand what was going on.

When Cantor pushes for that kind of change, I’ll give him credit as a true process reformer (right now, there aren’t many politicians of either party that deserve the label). But simply promising not to waive the three-day rule is not enough. The vast majority of the bills passed by the House in the 112th Congress will be political statements that have no chance of passing the Democratic Senate or being signed by President Obama. It’s easy to give people time to read those sorts of bills (not that reading the legalese does anyone except lawyers much good). After all, there’s no rush to pass them only to see them die in the Senate or get vetoed by Obama. But say, in 2012, the GOP takes back the Senate and the White House, and time is suddenly of the essence for Republicans. Will Cantor stick to his pledge when it’s no longer an easy promise?

Beckel has more on all this over at OpenSecrets