Iowa-Tested Reality Check Helps Keeps Washington Accountable PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Sen Chuck Grassley   
Monday, 31 January 2011 15:34
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In one of the first orders of business of the 112th Congress, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a good government measure I’ve pursued for more than a decade.

In a move that will pull back the cloak of secrecy that effectively hog-ties the people’s business in the U.S. Senate, anonymous “secret holds” will no longer be allowed.

A hold is a request by individual senators to their respective party’s leader in the Senate to object on their behalf as a sort of proxy.   Until now, senators didn’t have to disclose their identities when placing a hold.  Now, under the reform I co-authored, the Senate is under a binding resolution that automatically will trigger public disclosure of who is behind an objection to legislation or a nomination pending before the U.S. Senate. Specifically, the senator’s identity will be published in The Congressional Record within 48 hours. Previously, lawmakers could bear no public accountability.

My reason for ending secret holds is simple: If a lawmaker finds it necessary to delay action on a pending bill or nomination to build consensus, gather more information or argue for a different approach or policy, he or she should have the guts to make the hold public. Requiring a non-negotiable end to the anonymity of holds will bring better, more effective transparency to the legislative process.

A hold is effective because much of the Senate’s business operates by unanimous consent.  The reform will still allow each senator to exercise his or her prerogative to withhold consent on legislation or a nomination.  It’s important to preserve senators’ rights to represent their constituents and work for the best interests of the country.  But now such holds must withstand the light of day. The public has a right to know what their senators are objecting to and why.

In the U.S. Senate, I have championed many reforms in Washington that improve good governance and keep an important distinction in mind.  As stewards of the public purse, lawmakers work in Washington for the people. The people don’t work for Washington. That’s why I work year after year to hold office holders and the federal bureaucracy accountable.

Today I’m building on a crusade launched more than 20 years ago to bring Congress under the same laws it passes for people on Main Street. President Clinton signed my reform legislation into law in 1995. The Congressional Accountability Act applies a dozen federal workplace, employment and civil rights laws from which Congress routinely exempted itself, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Veteran’s Employment and Reemployment Rights at Chapter 43 of Title 38 of the U.S. Code, and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989.

I’m also fighting to end another double standard that flies in the face of integrity and good governance. In the last Congress, the President and Democratic congressional leaders pushed through a sweeping federal health reform law that makes significant changes to the nation’s health insurance system. Despite my efforts to ensure the new law would apply to the White House and those who drafted the bill in Congress, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 exempts the West Wing and congressional leadership staff from key elements of the law.

Talk about hogwash. Public officeholders who make the laws that apply to the rest of the country ought to have to taste their own medicine. That’s why in January I reintroduced my legislation that would require the President, members of his cabinet and top congressional staff to obtain their health coverage through the same health insurance exchanges as many other Americans when health plans for the general public are made available.  The special carve-out sends an arrogant message to grass roots America:  It says health care reform is good enough for you, but not for us.

Another way I’m working to get Congress started out on the right foot is legislation several other senators and I have reintroduced to stop automatic pay raises for federal lawmakers. Although I helped to block the automatic pay raises for 2010 and 2011, it’s time for Congress to swallow a permanent dose of common sense. Workers in the private sector don’t have the luxury of receiving an automatic pay raise year after year. Neither should members of Congress. Our bill would require a public roll-call vote in the U.S. Senate before a pay raise is approved.

Making sure Washington lives by the same standards that apply to the rest of the country will dismantle cavalier policymaking that can be arrogant and uninformed. Conducting the people’s business with transparency and holding public officeholders to account will help restore public confidence and improve public services. Bringing my Iowa-tested reality check back to Washington week after week sure helps me separate the wheat from the chaff.

Monday, January 31, 2011

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