Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is there an amendment to this Congressional bill or not?

First, a little motivation: I've been helping the Sunlight Foundation in their initiative to pass Senate bill 482, which forces Senators to submit their filings electronically like everyone else (eg. Representatives) which saves money and makes that information available in time for elections. They say that someone is going to attach an unpalatable amendment which will kill support for it. When I called my Senator's office, they said that there couldn't be an amendment yet because it wasn't out of the committee. OK, I believe her.

So here I am a few weeks later and I want to have all the information the next time I call. It looks like their claim about a "poison pill" amendment is based on heresay, and they even say that it's not proposed yet. It turns out that something happened with an amendment in the last congress (purportedly in a very secretive way) where the same bill was introduced as S 223... but that Open Congress listing does not show any amendments. What are they talking about? OK, so let's go to the source: is the official Library of Congress site for these bills, and they have a page for S 223, but that doesn't show any amendments, either!

I must point out that this is the point where, after all the frustration of navigating through the details and speeches about this bill, I hit something interesting. (My frustrations include trying to find permanent links to this data, because they generate temporary files for your own search results. Ug!) I finally found where the drama comes to a head on the floor of the Senate: in the last 5 paragraphs on this page, you can see where they are asking to proceed with the bill, but someone says "on behalf of the Republican side, I object." And that's the end of it. Crazy! I guess that simple objection carries enough weight to kill the whole thing.

OK, so where is this fabled amendment that killed the bill? It's mentioned in the speeches, and in this comprehensive summary of the bill it says things like "reported with an amendment". But you can't find the thing.

Hm. I just found that there is one published amendment: when I click on the "Text of Legislation" on the search results page, I end up at something that lists two versions of the bill, and the second one shows that some of the text has been stricken out (and it's especially obvious in the PDF Display). Very well. But that's not the amendment that killed it.

As my last gasp for enlightenment, I go back to the blog entry that gives more details about the behind-the-scenes action, plus the subsequent plea to stop the obstruction, and it appears that we have no real record of who did what and why. It's helpful to look through some of the other items "In The News" for this bill on; one of them is even an online appeal for help by the bill's sponsor. So I guess there isn't really any proposed amendment in writing; someone just wielded some operational rule and single-handedly killed it before it got to a vote.

I still haven't found the trail leading back to the McConnell Amendment. Time to try and ask questions to the bloggers at Open Congress... if I can find a way to log in...

(Any other suggestions?)

Wish me luck!

UPDATE (2009/04/16)

I found the introduction of this bill to the floor of the senate, where there was the original objection "on behalf of a Republican Senator". For some reason, they must "ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration"; "unanimous consent" is for bypassing rules to expedite some action, but why do we need to bypass rules to call this to a vote? Aren't there some normal rules we can follow to get this passed, so that one Senator can't block this thing?

BTW, it was very difficult to find a bookmarkable link to these pages; luckily I found one in my earlier searches, and I tweaked that because I couldn't find any way to get that link again. Anyway, I guessed at URL changes to find one that gets me to a list of pages for that day's business; other pages show the full text, but every once in a while you're stuck with one like this that just has links, and I cannot see why. So, here is the link; you can see the session as "110", the Senate as "S" (vs. House as "H"), the date of 17 Apr 2007 as "17AP7", and the page as "0018":