Sunday, March 8, 2009

Obama breaks transparency vow

CBS News

The White House claims that President Obama's administration will be "the most open and transparent in history," and announced on Friday it will convene a conference on March 12 to ensure "transparency" in the way money from last month's massive spending bill is distributed.

This would be a change from the secretive way that bill rocketed into law. As a candidate for office, Mr. Obama promised he would "not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days."

That didn't happen. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill, was approved by the Senate on a Thursday. Mr. Obama signed it on a Monday, just three days later.

Mr. Obama also signed the CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization) bill and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act without waiting the promised five days.

Were those all "emergency" bills? Probably not. Even the Democrat-controlled Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 8 percent of the "stimulus" spending comes in budget year 2009. If setting government spending levels in 2010, 2011, and 2012 qualifies as an emergency, it's hard to imagine what doesn't.

This came after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders rushed the 1,027-page stimulus conference report to a vote and gave their colleagues only hours to read it. (A few days earlier, the House had unanimously approved a non-binding, pro-transparency measure that assured members they would have 48 hours to read the bill.)

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) told that none of his Senate colleagues would "have the chance" to read the final version before the vote. A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted at the time found that only 24 percent of respondents believed Congress will understand what they're voting on.

For an administration that promised to be the most "transparent in history," and for a House speaker who promised the "most open" Congress in history, this may not be the most auspicious beginning.

Before taking office, Mr. Obama promised new openness in the presidential transition, saying "you can track these meetings" his transition staff had with groups seeking to influence policy. A "Your Seat At The Table" memo said: "This scope is a floor, not a ceiling, and all staff are strongly encouraged to include additional materials."

That never happened. Although Mr. Obama did disclose documents submitted to the transition staff, his Web site never provided a list of meetings with the names of groups and identities of participants. [...]

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