Transparency: Obama’s Waterloo?

“When congressmen scoff at the notion of reading legislation because they aren’t qualified or they aren’t competent to understand it, how can we be confident that those congressman are competent to reengineer the entire health care system?”

So asked a citizen at a town hall meeting where Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) held forth before a cantankerous crowd.

It’s a fair question. And President Obama offered an answer during his campaign. He promised that he would post bills coming to him from Congress online for five days before signing them. Rather than relying on Congress, the public should have more oversight of it.

(Alas, it’s a promise he has violated thirty-nine forty-one times. He signed two more bills into law last week within a day of receiving them.)

Under President Obama’s “Sunlight Before Signing” pledge or the 72-hour-hold in Congress preferred by the Sunlight Foundation, members of Congress and senators would be more reticent to introduce potentially controversial amendments, and they would be more obliged to know and defend what is in the bills they vote on.

President Obama set the standard—if not the precedent—by which lawmaking practice will be judged. He will have to rise to that standard as the public has more leisure to take the measure of his presidency. Congress will too.

(It’s not the president’s Waterloo, of course. I just put that in the title to attract your attention.)