Four good bills were reported out to the full U.S. House today by the Oversight and Reform Committee. Each has an excellent chance of being passed in the House, where some of the legislation has been passed before, and a pretty good chance of passing the Senate. The four bills share the aim of letting sunshine in on the workings of government.
I sat in on this morning's mark-up session in the House, and the results, so far, are very encouraging...
- H.R. 1254, the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act.
- H.R. 1255, the Presidential Records Act Amendments.
- H.R. 1309, the Freedom of Information Act Amendments.
- H.R. 1362, the Reform Acquisition Practices of the Federal Government Act (Accountability in Contracting Act).
All four bills were reported out by the Committee in a fairly efficient session ending at 1:30 today even after lunch and a floor vote by Congress. The GOP, led by Ranking Member Tom Davis, Republican of northern Virginia – epicenter of the gargantuan military-security complex, Corusant on the Potomac – offered several amendments but either conceded to the new majority like good sports or contributed to compromise amendments.
Fairly concise opening statements on each bill set the theme for the committee discussion.
In regard to donations for presidential libraries, Waxman pointed out that the costs and therefore the amounts donated for a presidential library have gone up enormously under every recent administration; that under current law, presidents are not required to disclose their donors or the amounts donated to a presidential library even while the president is still in the White House, much less afterward; and that the most intense fundraising for a presidential library occurs during the occupancy of the president and for the first years after the end of his term.
An amendment proposed by Davis, to expand the legislation to cover donations to foundations of members of Congress, was ruled out of order; the same legislation cannot be aimed at both the White House and Congress. Waxman expressed the hope, however, that such legislation re: Congress would be offered in future and offered to co-sponsor it.
The Presidential Records Act amendments are designed to install procedures to ensure that the presidential papers of any administration remain free to historians and others, under the guiding principle that they belong to the people rather than to an individual president. Some back-and-forth committee discussion was generated by proposed amendments – let’s call them the “Sandy Berger amendment” and the counter-offered “Lewis Libby and Elliott Abrams amendments,” offered by the GOP and Dems, respectively, to restrict access to archives by individuals who have been convicted of a crime.
A compromise amendment was arrived at --- what might be called the "Berger-Abrams-Libby amendment" --- to prevent unrestricted access to secret archives by an Executive branch official who has been convicted in court of betraying the public trust. (N.b. Public record would show that I am a registered Democrat, but for the life of me I cannot understand how a pantshead like Sandy Berger got named to any administration in any capacity, much less security. Of course, GWBush’s insulting appointment of Iran-Contra leftover and neocon Elliott Abrams, another disappointed Cold Warrior – and convicted at that – beggars description.)
The FOIA amendments and the acquisition reforms proposed by H.R. 1309 and 1362, respectively, all sound like excellent ideas. Surely only a major counteroffensive by the White House – which it hardly seems in a good position to pull off, currently – would derail them in the full Congress.
But then, I’ve been over-optimistic before. Meanwhile, it must be acknowledged that the newly renamed Oversight and Government Reform Committee is pulling together and setting partisan differences aside reasonably well.