New Congress brings about positive changes in the House

While most may agree Speaker Boehner’s acceptance of his extra-large gavel straight from Nancy Pelosi’s hands when the 112th Congress convened Wednesday was exciting, the newly-passed House rules may have been the biggest news of the day.

The new rules include a handful of revisions to those of the 111th Congress: 

  • Proposed bills must include a statement indicating what powers of the Constitution authorize their passing, 
  • Bills must be publicly accessible online 72 hours prior to being voted on, 
  • Committee hearings and meetings must be recorded (audio and video) and easily accessible to the public, 
  • And my personal favorite, mobile electronic devices may be allowed on the House floor as long as they do not “impair decorum.”

In addition to (hopefully) fixing up the multitude of problems the last Congress left us with, the new Congress, especially after yesterday’s reading of the Constitution by House members, seem to be on the right path towards bringing our country back to its constitutional roots while increasing government transparency—a campaign promise President Obama has failed to keep thus far.

While on his campaign trail, President Obama said he would have negotiations over legislation televised on C-SPAN. Look how that turned out. But already, House Republicans, specifically the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have begun uploading hearings (starting in 2009) the panel has conducted onto YouTube.

Requiring a statement indicating which powers of the Constitution dictate whether a bill should be OK’d by the House should eliminate a lot of the frivolous legislation that Congress has passed in the past and is a completely reasonable request. In grade school, everyone remembers having to prove theorems while solving math problems or answering those pesky true and false questions with why an answer was false. If thirteen year olds can do it, so can our Congressmen.

How do electronic devices allowed on the House floor tie into all of this? While the section-by-section analysis of the revised House rules says the decision on which devices are allowed on the floor is ultimately up to the Speaker, devices such as Blackberries and electronic tablets (eg. iPads) seem to fall under the acceptable category because they can be placed on silent and have smaller and/or touchpad keyboards. This will only increase transparency efforts in the House. How can a Congressman not listen to his constituents when his email account (surely flooded with constituent emails) and social networking platforms like Twitter are only a tap away? (I imagine that, ideally, iPads won’t be used for playing solitaire or Angry Birds instead of legislating.)

In addition to increasing transparency, hopefully the use of electronic devices in the House will increase fact accuracy during debates and reduce the number of printed documents on the floor. (In this case, it’s not the environment and trees I’m thinking about saving, but rather, the taxpayer dollars used to pay for the ink and paper used to print those 1000+ page bills!)

So far, it looks as if the 112th Congress is off to a great start. Leave it up to Republicans to do things the right way!

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