The Time for Transparency Is Now

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty” -Thomas Jefferson.

The principle of “informed consent” is well established in American law and life.  Whether preparing to undergo surgery or take out a loan, consumers have a right to full disclosure of the risks and consequences associated with the transaction.  Only after the consumer has reviewed such information and been informed of the relevant facts can he be deemed to have given his consent to proceed.

Imagine, then, going to the hospital for major surgery, only to be told by your doctor that you are not smart enough to understand the implications of your operation, and that even if you were, he doesn’t want to take the time to explain them to you before you go under the knife.  Or suppose you asked your local car dealer for a test drive of the vehicle you were considering purchasing before you actually signed on the bottom line and he refused, accusing you of stalling and denying you an opportunity to test the merchandise before you bought it.  Only a fool would continue under such circumstances.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the business of the American people transacted by our representatives on Capitol Hill, the public is embracing just this kind of treatment.  For years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have trampled on the principle of transparency by ramming legislation through the Congress without giving the American people time to read it.  And if certain lawmakers have their way, that’s exactly what will happen with the current health care reform effort.

Last week, Republicans in both houses of Congress attempted to shed some much needed light on the legislative process at a crucial time in our nation’s history.  An amendment quickly defeated in the Senate Finance Committee would have required the health care bill to be fully written, evaluated by the Congressional Budget office, and posted on the Internet for a minimum of 72 hours before lawmakers could cast their votes.  A similar proposal introduced in the House of Representatives would require a 72 hour window for public review of all legislation being considered for passage.

Democrats—architects of the legislation in question—are widely opposed to such measures.  Despite the fact that the American people are facing a massive overhaul of 20% of the national economy, legislative poohbahs insist that they do not have the time and we do not have the intelligence to engage in such a process.  According to Senator John Kerry, the legalese in which Congressional legislation is written would be unintelligible to the majority of the American public.  Max Baucus insists that the time required to post legislation online and the 72 hour waiting period would cause an unacceptable delay in addressing the healthcare crisis threatening America.

Perhaps someone should remind these gentlemen that America is a democratic republic.  The representatives on Capitol Hill are sent there by the people to represent the interests of the people, and they are accountable, first and foremost, to the people.  Thomas Jefferson stressed the relationship between an educated citizenry and the preservation of liberty because he understood that a government which is not accountable to its people quickly devolves into tyranny.  The American people have a vested interest in knowing what kinds of laws are being passed by their representatives.  After all, the people have to live by those laws—even if the members of Congress do not.  The fact that President Obama and his Democrat allies in Congress have dug themselves into a hole with artificially imposed deadlines and unrealistic expectations does not negate the importance of transparency and accountability.  If anything, the attempts to avoid transparency and fast track the massive health care bill auger for more—not less—scrutiny and review.

As for the notions that Congressional legislation is too voluminous to post online and too complex for the average American voter, neither argument holds water.  In the 21st Century, 1000 pages can be scanned, transported, and uploaded onto the World Wide Web with minimal effort.  Furthermore, the internet blogosphere makes it possible to harness the intelligence and analytical expertise of countless scholars, pundits, and experts, thereby making even the most complicated of documents accessible and readily understood.

Regardless of how inconvenient the process of transparency may seem to our august representatives in Washington, legislative “sunshine” policies should be embraced, and—with exceptions for sudden emergencies or matters of national security—should be established as standard business practice for elected officials at every level of government.  Imagine how this one simple step would diminish the influence of the smoke-filled room, the quid pro quo, and the undue influence of special interests.

The most likely motive that an elected official has for opposing transparency in government is that they have something to hide.  If members of Congress want to shed their reputation as the least trustworthy of government officials in America, they need to realize that the time for politics as usual is over, and the time for transparency is now.

Ken Connor


Ken Connor is the Chairman of the Center for a Just Society. An esteemed attorney, Connor is affiliated with the law firm of Marks, Balette, & Giessel, a firm nationally known for its successful representation of victims of nursing home abuse and neglect.

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  • Indeed, they are upset because we learned too much about previous bills they wrote for us.

  • cpageinkeller

    Mr. Connor is right on the mark. Obfuscation of both content and intent is designed to fool us. Clearly, technology is available to make the health care legislation available to the public. Equally obvious is the fact that there is no emergency involved here – except for the need to quickly pass the legislation before Americans discover the egregious nature of its content.

    On the issue, “Americans can’t understand the legalese,”: I ask, “Why must it be written that way?” Of those seven men traditionally recognized as our founders, four were attorneys. Of the signatories to the Declaration and Constitution, many were attorneys. Yet, both the Declaration and the Constitution are written in PLAIN ENGLISH, language so clear that the populace of the day could understand, even those to whom the documents were read (because they couldn’t read).

    I am a retired surgeon (clinical and academic). I have read the entire 1000+ pages of HR3200, the only semi-complete piece of health care legislation “on the table” at this point. The senate version is in evolution. I can assure you that the critics of HR3200 have UNDERESTIMATED its flaws. The legislation is bad for patients, bad for doctors, bad for the insurance industry, and horrible for of nation’s finances – no will it accomplish one of its goals: universal coverage.

    We should fix our health care / insurance system, not destroy it. Tort reform to reduce the overhead of physicians, insurers, and pharmaceutical companies; rejection of assignment of benefits; making insurance premanent, personal (not job connected), and portable with a premium that never changes; and enhancing catastrophic policies and health savings accounts. The fixes are conceptually simple. Each would be condemned by one special interest or another (i.e. trial lawyers for tort reform). The legislative will to enact these modifications or some other paradigm will reach critical mass only when forced by a clear understanding of the problems and available solutions by the American public.

    Clearly, all legislation should be available for public review before it is passed; not a a plebiscite, but as information for a basis of our communicating with our legislators. It takes both: information and activism.

  • kent4jmj

    Read The Bills Act. It is becoming part of the Public debate because of this small little organization.

  • christymomof3

    The time required would take too long? They keep insisting it’s an emergency, even though the legislation doesn’t take effect until after Obama’s reelection. If it were written longhand on parchment, which it is not, it would take very little time to scan it and post it as a pdf, but I’m sure it’s written on computers, so it could be posted in a few clicks. But we’re too stupid to know that, and we’re too stupid to read it. They assume we are all products of their modern, liberal, public school system. Vote ’em out and vote in legislators who have the good sense of cpageinkeller.