When I last reported on Sunlight Before Signing—President Obama’s promise to post bills online for five days before signing them—the administration had begun to rack up the wins. Of the 13 bills he signed in December, five had received the Sunlight Before Signing treatment.
Alas, since January, only one of the 18 bills subject to the promise has gotten the online exposure the president promised. (That was H.R. 1377/P.L. 111-137, a bill dealing with reimbursement of veterans for services they receive at non-V.A. facilities.)
It’s an unfortunate slow-down from the heady days when the president’s SBS batting average rocketed from a dismal .009 to .048. The president’s current Sunlight Before Signing average is only slightly improved at .049 (7 for 142).
The average could have risen quite nicely. Eight bills were post office renamings that sat at the White House for more than five days anyway. It was just a matter of posting them on Whitehouse.gov. True: these aren’t important bills, but the Sunlight Before Signing promise was simply to post all bills. The American people could benefit from seeing the “unimportant” work of Congress and the president along with the important.
There was one interesting development in SBS since I last reported: we saw a bill go through that was not subject to the Sunlight Before Signing promise.
S. 2949/P.L. 111-127 provided additional funds to the U.S. Repatriation Program in light of the disaster in Haiti. That money was for getting people out of harm’s way, and waiting five days to release the funds would have kept people in physical peril. It was ”emergency” legislation, which President Obama sensibly excluded from the five-day waiting period of Sunlight Before Signing.
(By contrast, H.R. 4462/P.L. 111-126—which accelerated tax deductability of contributions for Haiti—was about an emergency, but not emergency legislation itself: changing the tax treatment of charitable contributions would only indirectly affect people’s physical safety, health, etc.)
More than a year into the current administration, we’ve seen the contours of the Sunlight Before Signing promise. We’ve seen the White House make a good run at fulfilling the promise. But in the early months of this year, we haven’t seen much more actual execution.
When the president does follow through on Sunlight Before Signing, it will be a simple but important service to the millions of Americans who might get a better idea of how the government works and what it does. It will also fulfill a campaign promise.
Below is the latest Sunlight Before Signing chart:
* Page now gone, but it was either directly observed, evidence of it appears in a Whitehouse.gov search, or the White House says it existed.
† Bill was posted for five days after final passage, though not formal presentment. Counted as “Yes.”
‡ Link to final version of bill on impossible-to-find page.
E! Emergency legislation not subject to five-day posting