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
Over at Downsizing Government, we focused on the following issues this week:
- The Department of Homeland Security is a mismanaged mess.
- Federal aid to the states is too popular.
- It's time to privatize the U.S. Postal Service Monopoly.
- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood likes to give the gift of other people's money. Ho, ho, oh no!
- Charles Krauthammer gets nostalgic about the socialist mail monopolist.
I've long raised concerns about the rapidly rising costs of federal worker pay and benefits. Despite the obvious acceleration of federal compensation above private compensation in recent years, federal unions have continued to claim that federal workers suffer from a giant "pay gap," which is currently supposed to be 26 percent.
Unfortunately, the pay gap mythology has been spread by Washington Post reporters, one recently writing, "The budget answers critics ... who say federal civilians earn much more than private-sector workers... [G]overnment figures indicate that federal employees are underpaid by 26 percent compared with their counterparts in similar position in the business world."
The Post is generally a great paper, but they seem to have blinders on with respect to federal pay issues. As a result, the USA Today has repeatedly scooped them. USA Today has a groundbreaking piece today revealing that in job-to-job comparisons, federal workers typically have wages 20 percent higher than private-sector workers.
Instead of federal workers suffering from a 26-percent "pay gap," they actually have a 20-percent advantage over private sector workers. And that doesn't include benefits, which are four times higher in the federal government than in the private sector, on average.
How could the federal unions get it so wrong? The calculation of the supposed 26-percent pay gap is reported in this annual memo. But the underlying calculations are extremely complex, non-transparent, and subject to a huge degree of statistical modeling.
One reason I've been suspicious of the official gap claim is that while Bureau of Economic Analysis data show that average federal wages have grown far faster than private wages in recent years, the official "pay gap" has remained very high. In 2001, the pay gap was said to be 22 percent. By 2008, the gap was said to have increased to 25 percent.
Yet BEA data show that average federal salaries rose 46 percent between 2001 and 2008, much more than the 26-percent average increase in the private sector. Since the BEA data are extremely solid, there must be something wrong with the official pay gap methodology.
Where should we go from here? The first step should be to freeze federal salaries, as proposed by Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). Then we should start cutting back overly generous federal benefits.
And to get to the bottom of the "pay gap" mystery, Congress should hire an independent human resources consulting firm to dig into the official methodology and propose a more accurate way to compare federal and private worker compensation.
For more, see:
- Joe Scarborough speaking at Cato March 18: "Escalate or Withdraw? Conservatives and the War in Afghanistan." Registration is free and open to the public.
- ObamaCare - Now with GOP sprinkles! "Though mostly not bad, they're hardly game changing....At its heart, ObamaCare hasn't changed. It still represents a top-down, centralized, command-and-control approach to reform."
- More broken promises, PATRIOT Act edition: Obama's Office of Legal Counsel grants fresh retroactive immunity for Bush-era telecommunication lawbreaking.
- Why the creation of a "consumer financial protection agency" would increase the likelihood of future crises rather than reduce them.
- Podcast: "The Intangible Right of Honest Services" featuring Timothy Sandefur.
Great column on the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act by Tim Carney in today's Washington Examiner. He hits the major points — SAFRA hardly threatens a sudden federal takeover of student lending, but also promises anything but "fiscal reponsibility" — while adding a critical warning: the whole stinkin' bill could be tacked onto health care reconciliation.
Wow! As if the health care bill isn't abominable enough on its own...
Sen. John Kerry (D, MA) made an, er, interesting rhetorical case yesterday (as reported on E2 Wire, The Hill's Energy and Environment blog) that borrows heavily from the Bush playbook: your patriotism hinges on voting for his favored policy — in this case, a climate change bill. Not that the bill is really about climate change, of course. It's about a list of goodies completely unrelated to the changing political winds:
What we are talking about is a jobs bill. It is not a climate bill. It is a jobs bill, and it is a clean air bill. It is a national security, energy independence bill,” he told reporters in the Capitol...
“And people are going to have to decide whether they are going to vote for America or against it,” he concluded.
In response to this week’s news that the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service is facing $238 billion in losses over the coming decade, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer lamented the inevitable demise of the government mail monopoly:
As a conservative who believes in the market, it ought to die, but as a conservative that believes in tradition and stuff that really holds us together, I would subsidize until it dies a natural death in the next generation. But for old guys like me, keep it going for a while.
[As for] the hard-hearted younger generation — well, if you ever got a sweet-smelling love letter at 17, you'd feel otherwise. Of course, I never did, but somebody did.
You can't smell your e-mail.
I did receive sweet-smelling love letters from a girl back home during my first year in college. Fifteen years later, my old college roommate is still making fun of me for it. But I don’t "feel otherwise" about the government mail monopoly. The sooner it disappears and is replaced by private operators unshackled from the unions and government mandates that are speeding the USPS’s demise, the better.
Krauthammer’s comment that “you can’t smell your e-mail” isn’t even true. The technology exists for scents to emit from your computer when you open an e-mail, click on a web advertisement, or play video games.
Krauthammer believes that the government monopoly has helped maintain national cohesiveness:
But, look, anything that is in Article 1 Section 8 of our constitution, anything that Madison had waxed enthusiastic about it in Federalist 42 — the postal roads that have kept us together — as an old-school guy, I don't want to see it die.
If by “kept together” he means that mail enabled people all over the country to communicate with each other, the telecommunications revolution that is undermining the postal service has dramatically enhanced long-distance correspondence. Facebook is a perfect example. Most of my Facebook “friends” are people I would have otherwise lost touch with or rarely communicated with.
Finally, Krauthammer is only somewhat correct when it comes to the issue of privatizing the USPS:
Look, it's very obvious that you can't privatize this. Three studies have looked at the postal service. Because of the new technology there is no entrepreneur in his right mind who would purchase it. So it's going to be on the government dole forever.
The question is, is it completely obsolete? Look, it has one mandate which other private services don't have. It has to reach every tiny hamlet everywhere in the country no matter what. It's got to be universal. So that's a slight handicap that the private companies don't have.
Its main handicap, of course, is the crushing labor union contracts and the new technology, especially e-mail, which makes most of what it does obsolete. So that's why it runs a huge deficit.
It’s true that with the combination of unionism and government mandates the USPS in its current form is nothing private investors would want to touch. But that’s the whole point of postal liberalization and privatization. It’s pretty clear that the USPS is going to be directly supported by taxpayers in the future or it’s going to succumb to market realities. Instead of waxing nostalgic about a socialist enterprise, let’s focus on how the wonderful technologies brought to us by the private sector can better get the job done.
As Fred Smith, founder of FedEx and a Cato supporter, noted in a Cato book on the postal service:
[T]here are many things in American life that have had a great history, for example the cavalry. Yet, we do not do cavalry charges anymore. We must recognize that there are many institutions that long ago passed into history.