Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

The Obameter

Allow five days of public comment before signing bills


To reduce bills rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them, Obama "will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days."


Updates

Credit card bill of rights passed without five-day break

The camera lights still outshine sunlight at the Obama White House. In his latest violation of this promise, President Barack Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 on May 22, only two days after the bill was finalized in Congress.

The law doesn't take effect for a full year, so it clearly is not emergency legislation.

The law stops credit card companies from increasing rates without notice and requires them to post their rules on the Internet, among other things. (When Obama signed it, we rated Promise No. 33, Establish a credit card bill of rights , Promise Kept.)

The White House Web site posted a form for public comment on the bill at some point during the legislative process, though we were not able to detect an exact date. We do know that it could not have allowed five days for public comment after passage, because Obama signed the bill after two days. The last time we checked with the White House on this, they said they were still working "implementation procedures."

We should also note that the White House doesn't make it easy for people to find where to leave comments on pending legislation. The Web site does not have a tab for comments or pending legislation and, when we finally discovered the undated comment area for the credit card bill through a global search of the White House site, it wasn't clear where it was located on the site or where people should go for future comments.

We are not documenting every time Obama breaks this promise, but we do intend to check back periodically. We still rate it Promise Broken.

Sources:

Thomas, Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009

The White House Web site, Public review for H.R. 627

Still no "Sunlight before Signing"

When President Obama signed his first bill without posting it to the Web for five days of public comment, we gave him his first Promise Broken.

For his second bill, Obama signed an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides health coverage for low-income children. He signed it on Feb. 4, 2009, just hours after it was finalized in Congress.

This time, though, the White House had posted the text of the working bill to its Web site on  Feb. 1, 2009, with the following note : "Since this version of the bill is expected to pass the House of Representatives in the coming week, we are making the legislation available for public comment now."

That doesn't quite cut it for his promise, though. The legislation was still in process in Congress, and even if no substantial changes were made, the possibility was still there. It's not the five-day waiting period he had promised.

It's also not emergency legislation. The bill's provisions don't kick in until April 1, 2009, almost three months from signing.

We asked the White House about this matter on Jan. 29, when Obama signed his first bill. Five days later, on the day of the SCHIP signing, we got a reply via e-mail from spokesman Tommy Vietor:

"During the campaign, the president committed to introducing more sunlight into the lawmaking process by posting nonemergency legislation online for five days before signing it. The president remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House has posted legislation expected to come to the president's desk online for comment. We will be implementing this policy in full soon; currently we are working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar. In the meantime, we will continue to post legislation on our Web site for comment as it moves through congress over the next few weeks."

In deciding on our ratings, we like to be reasonable about promises that take time to implement. That's why all the promises start at "No Action." But the White House has demonstrated it has the technical ability to post information to their site and allow comments. They're just not waiting the promised interval. So it's still a Promise Broken.

Sources:

White House Web site, CHIP , accessed Feb. 4, 2009

Thomas, SCHIP legislation , accessed Feb. 4, 2009

White House Web site, " Latest version of SCHIP posted for comment ," Feb. 1, 2009

Obama signs first law without Web comment

One of President Obama's major campaign planks was making government more open and accountable. It's a reaction to a habit in Congress of rushing bills through the House and Senate without giving people much opportunity to know what the bills would do. Indeed, sometimes members of Congress don't even know what's in the bills.

So Obama pledged during the campaign to institute "sunlight before signing."

"Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them," Obama's campaign Web site states . "As president, Obama will not sign any nonemergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days."

But the first bill Obama signed into law as president — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — got no such vetting.

In fact, the Congressional Record shows that the law was passed in the Senate on Jan. 22, 2009, passed in the House on Jan. 27, and signed by the president on Jan. 29. So only two days passed between the bill's final passage and the signing.

The legislation was not posted to the White House Web site for comment in any way that we could find.

We see no way the bill could be deemed emergency legislation, even taking the broadest view. The bill overturns the effects of a Supreme Court decision that limited when workers could sue for pay discrimination. Most pertinently, the bill is retroactive to the time of the court decision — May 28, 2007. Obama earned a Promise Kept from us for signing the law. But it would have the same effect if had been signed a few days later, so it's clearly not an emergency.

We asked the White House about this and if they planned to begin posting laws to the Web site for comment soon, but we got no response.

Obama signed the measure at 10:20 a.m. About two hours later, the White House posted the bill on its Web site with a link that asks people to submit comments . But the bill was already signed at that point. 

We recognize that Obama has been in office just a week, but he was very clear about his plan for a five-day comment period, and we can't see why this one needed to be rushed. It is somewhat ironic that with the same action, Obama both keeps and breaks a campaign promise. But there it is — his first one. Promise Broken.

Sources:

White House Web site, post on the Lilly Ledbetter Act , accessed Jan. 29, 2009

Library of Congress THOMAS, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 , accessed Jan. 29, 2009