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House Appropriators May Limit Public Availability of Pending Bills

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the no-bill-for-you dept.

Government 194

Attila Dimedici writes "The House Appropriations Committee is considering a draft report that would forbid the Library of Congress to allow bulk downloads of bills pending before Congress. The Library of Congress currently has an online database called THOMAS (for Thomas Jefferson) that allows people to look up bills pending before Congress. The problem is that THOMAS is somewhat clunky and it is difficult to extract data from it. This draft report would forbid the Library of Congress from modernizing THOMAS until a task force reports back. I am pretty sure that the majority of people on Slashdot agree that being able to better understand how the various bills being considered by Congress interact would be good for this country."

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Obviously (4, Funny)

Stirling Newberry (848268) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178435)

The Gingrich Revolution is too far to the left for the current House of Representatives.

Re:Obviously (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178471)

This is news? The current GOP pols are far to the right of that liberal Demagogue Nixon. The health care reform package that the current GOP is so outraged about would likely have been signed no further questions asked by Nixon as it's more conservative than what he was proposing at the time.

What's more back then the GOP recognized that we do indeed need the federal government to do somethings as leaving things up to the states didn't work out so well during our trial run as a confederation.

Re:Obviously (-1, Troll)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179349)

>>> have been signed no further questions asked by Nixon

Yeah you're probably right, but the Supreme Court would strike it down. Per the Constitution's 10th amendment only the Member States of the union have the power to provide government heatlhcare and/or forced mandates to purchase insurance. NOT the Congress.

Yes that's an inconvenient facet of the law, nevertheless it IS the supreme law of the land. If Democrats (or socialists) don't like it then they should amend the constitution to allow Congress to provide healthcare (or mandate insurance purchases).

Re:Obviously (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179597)

>>> have been signed no further questions asked by Nixon

Yeah you're probably right, but the Supreme Court would strike it down. Per the Constitution's 10th amendment only the Member States of the union have the power to provide government heatlhcare and/or forced mandates to purchase insurance. NOT the Congress.

Yes that's an inconvenient facet of the law, nevertheless it IS the supreme law of the land. If Democrats (or socialists) don't like it then they should amend the constitution to allow Congress to provide healthcare (or mandate insurance purchases).

Funny but no where does it say that in the 10th amendment. BTW the minute you put socialists into your writings you nulled your argument as the current health care law is so anti-socialist pro-capitalist that it kinda proves you have

1) no clue what you are talking about
2) a IQ level of a goat.

Re:Obviously (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179671)

As much as I support the concept of universal health care, cpu6502 is correct.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. [wikipedia.org] .

Now show me what part of the constitution grants the federal government the power to provide healthcare.

Re:Obviously (5, Informative)

0bject (758316) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179889)

Article I, Section 8, clause 1 The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States Article I, Section 8, clause 3 To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes

Re:Obviously (3, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180265)

It's purely a matter of saying it bluntly instead of trying to say it cleverly.

You can't say, "You MUST pay $640 to buy health insurance"-- unconstitutional.

But...

You can say, "You MUST give the federal government $640 per year in taxes. The Federal government will provide you health care. There will be tax exemptions for people whose income is low". -- constitutional

Re:Obviously (3, Informative)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180351)

Let's ask the author of the constitution (quoting from memory): "There is nothing more natural than to start with a general phrase, and qualify it with particulars. The phrase 'provide general welfare' is qualified by the list of specifically enumerated power below it. Congress may only exercise those powers.

"To suppose Congress might do anything that falls within the 'general welfare' would give the central government unlimited power to do whatever it pleases, and there is a whole host of proofs that was never intended by the original framers, nor by myself." - James Madison, author of the Constitution.

He also authored, with Jefferson, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions which state the powers of the central government are few, while the bulk of the power is reserved to the People and their Legislatures (amendment 10). The Congress may not mandate you buy car insurance. But the States can. It is a power reserved to them, and the same is true of any other form of insurance.

And finally:
Congress has the power to regulate commerce AMONG the states. Not inside the states, and most-definitely not commerce between two individuals (me and my doctor). They can NOT force me to buy insurance if I would rather pay cash directly to my physician.

Re:Obviously (0)

evilRhino (638506) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180371)

TLDR version: The federal government has authority to regulate health care because people can buy insurance/healthcare services from companies across state lines. The 10th amendment does not apply.

Re:Obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179921)

Article I, Section 8, Clause 3.

As well as

Article IV and V of the Constitution and the 16th Amendment.

As the healthcare law is simply a tax it negates any bitching about the rights of the constitution as it pertains to healthcare. Basically put, the Right wing hacks like you fail to argue the merit of the law on the right grounds, the law is a tax, plain and simple and since you fail to admit that you basically ruin your case as the constitution flat out DOES spell out how taxes are handled.

Re:Obviously (2)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180325)

This is where the problem lies.
If it is a tax then it can skirt the 10th amendment. Though we would all agree that it would be "skirting" it as the constitution was clear.
The issue is that it was not passed as a tax. They have legal issues if it is a tax. They have legal issues if it is not a tax.
What I am seeing is that they are trying to tell us it "is/is not" a tax. They can only get it to be legal if they can convince the Supreme Court that it is both a tax and not a tax at the same time.

Re:Obviously (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40180255)

Oh please, the Supreme Court of the time wouldn't have even batted an eye at the legality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

They'd probably have slap Scalia and Thomas around for being numbskulls in black robes.

Re:Obviously (4, Insightful)

JackieBrown (987087) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178485)

This is reasonable per Pelosi. As she said "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoE1R-xH5To [youtube.com]

Re:Obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178579)

Ummmmm, isn't that a little out of context?

Re:Obviously (0)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178803)

I would be very surprised if ObamaCare even made it into THOMAS.

Re:Obviously (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180727)

I would be very surprised if ObamaCare even made it into THOMAS.

It's been in there for years.

I read every version of it as it was being debated, and the final version was in there at the end.

Re:Obviously (2)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178855)

This is reasonable per Pelosi.

Except, the Republicans run the House of Representatives now, and they run the Appropriations Committee who actually made this pronouncement, so wouldn't it be more appropriate to say that it is "reasonable per Boehner"? Or maybe, "reasonable per Koch" since that's who runs the Republican Party?

I mean, if you wanted to be accurate...

Re:Obviously (5, Insightful)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178989)

He IS being accurate. He is pointing out that hiding the content of legislation isn't a GOP problem, it's a Democrat problem, as evidenced by the video he linked.

When Pelosi had control of the house, she intentionally and purposefully hid the contents of the "Obamacare" bill and used parliamentary tricks to avoid debate. There was even talk that the Democrats would use a trick called "Deem and Pass" to simply "Deem" the bill passed WITHOUT taking a vote on it. Yep, that's right; The Democrats, not the Republicans wanted to suspend the democratic process and simply force through a bill they wanted because people opposed it. This was a historical first for any Congress, and it was the Democrats that tried it. In the end they dropped it due to massive public pressure, and the bill passed on purely partisan lines. (Note that the Democrats had total control of both houses of Congress at the time.)

Also, as another poster pointed out below, wanting a full accounting and report of any major project so that all interested parties can review it before signing off on the expenditure is a responsible thing to do, something we want our representatives doing. Why is this bad just because the GOP is doing it? Doesn't that strike you as a hypocritical position to take?

As that other posted noted, this article is itself a troll and nothing but FUD. THOMAS isn't going down, even during the upgrade, so no access will be lost. The GOP just wants to do the upgrade properly and with full oversight. They should be applauded for being responsible with our money.

Re:Obviously (3, Interesting)

hrvatska (790627) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179777)

"Deem and Pass" Is Not "Without a Vote", and both parties use it. The Republicans used it to pass a budget bill in the House recently. The Dems used it in the House for healthcare legislation. The Republicans used it to pass the Bush tax cuts. There are plenty of examples of both parties using it. Both sides cry about the other side using this technique, but they both use it when it's to their advantage.

Re:Obviously (3, Insightful)

WrecklessSandwich (1000139) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179815)

You mean the "Deem and Pass" trick the Boehner House actually tried to use at least once for the godawful GOP budget bills to try to bypass the Senate? Doesn't that strike you as a hypocritical position to take? Quick, post some more out of context Fox News clips of out of context quotes to show what a partisan shill you are.

It isn't the Democrats or the Republicans or even the (bad) 2-party system that's the problem. The problem is the Red vs. Blue adversarial partisan bullshit pushed by people like you that makes every issue divisive for its own sake to the point that nonsense like hiding the content of legislation and "Deem and Pass" are more attractive options than intelligent discussion. Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay must be spinning in their graves.

That being said, I agree with you about TFA being complete nonsense.

Re:Obviously (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180521)

Can we not just agree that both the Democrats and the Republicans suck ass?
How fucking stupid do you have to be? After all of the evidence we have had for someone to still believe that one party is looking out for you.
Neither one is! If you think that the Democrats or the Republicans are protecting you you are a tard.

Re:Obviously (1)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179015)

This is reasonable per Pelosi. As she said "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoE1R-xH5To [youtube.com]

Spoken like a true representative of the elite living above the laws they make for everyone else to abide by.

Re:Obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179673)

I have no illusions regarding the credibility (or sometimes intelligence) of politicians. But please let us not remove context to make things worse. The full quote is:

"But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it away from the fog of controversy"

Which is still devastatingly stupid, but in a completely different way.....

Re:Obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40180573)

Well, yes, it's like dealing with children. They'll freak out over a medicinal pill, or a shot, to the point where you practically have to put them in restraints to administer it, then when it's done, it's nothing.

That is devastatingly stupid behavior, but adults go about encouraging it without even realizing it.

Re:Obviously (1)

vriemeister (711710) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180439)

I remember that everyone could read the entire healthcare bill at any time. It was just over 1000 pages and people chose to whine about that instead. A very few journalists actually did and really asked intelligent and pointed questions about its contents. But that was massively drowned out by screams from the right of Obamacare, Socialism, and Death Panels. And so no one knew what was in the bill because they only paid attention to those who yelled the loudest.

In that context, here is the full comment Pelosi made and I think it shows your little snippet to be misleading.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=zE-F5CX34qI&NR=1 [youtube.com]

Troll Headline and Summary (5, Informative)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178779)

Let's try a more reasonable one...

"The House Appropriations Committee is considering holding off on modernizing THOMAS until the system "owners" finalize the specifications."

It is entirely reasonable to put a hold on a project until everyone knows what it's going to be and buys off on the changes.

I am pretty sure that the majority of people on Slashdot agree that to dive into a project that will undoubtedly be large and expensive and is highly visible without nailing down the details first is irresponsible and a recipe for failure.

Re:Troll Headline and Summary (5, Informative)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178791)

I forgot to mention that there is no discussion of taking THOMAS offline pending the upgrade.

Re:Troll Headline and Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178995)

The only thing I would add to your comment is the bill needs is a reporting deadline, add that and the majority of objections should fail.

Re:Troll Headline and Summary (0)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179543)

I forgot to mention that there is no discussion of taking THOMAS offline pending the upgrade.

Shhh, you're messing with the "Republicans are killing democracy!" meme. At least toss in a "war on women" reference or something.

Re:Troll Headline and Summary (1)

d3ac0n (715594) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178863)

Thank you for your both Insightful and Informative post. If I had mod points I would vote you up. Far too many people on /. have this "Republicans are EEEVIILL! *HISSSSS*" reaction to anything that the GOP (or a body the GOP currently controls) does without even considering the source.

Personally I agree that it is valid to want a full accounting and report before all interested parties sign off on a major system upgrade. Glad to see SOMEONE in Washington is actually concerned with doing things right and NOT wasting taxpayer money.

Re:Troll Headline and Summary (0)

macaddict (91085) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179593)

Your attempt at logic and reasoning is admirable, but as we learned from the Elizabeth Moon article not too long ago, it's a battle you can't win. They're not interested in fact checking. They happily and willingly eat up whatever incorrect/unsupported nonsense is fed to them in a summary and turn it into pure Nerd Rage.

Re:Troll Headline and Summary (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180125)

I always say, if banging your head against the wall achieves nothing else, it will at least leave a mark on the wall.

Re:Troll Headline and Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40180445)

Here's the real reason they don't want bulk downloads:

They want to know who is downloading which bills. Think of the patriot act's demand that public libraries keep and turn over records of their patrons' book borrowing.

See the connection?

It's pretty funnny... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178439)

How the talking point is less government, except for situations where all they propose is more government

Opacity in government (2)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178479)

A move to restrict public visibility into the legislative process seems like a bad idea in an election year. If only the minority party in the House had the balls to exploit this...

Re:Opacity in government (5, Insightful)

digitalsolo (1175321) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178669)

Sorry, but you're delusional if you don't think that BOTH parties are all for removing public opinion and scrutiny from what they're doing.

Re:Opacity in government (2, Informative)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178815)

You both are delusional because there is no mention of taking THOMAS offline while they decide on how to upgrade it.

Re:Opacity in government (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179145)

You both are delusional because there is no mention of taking THOMAS offline while they decide on how to upgrade it.

I'd reserve your delusional accusations. Bottom line is I'll believe that when I see it. Hell of a coincidence to target the very system that enables the masses to review pending bills during an election year and when some of the largest bills in our history that affect the most people are being floated around.

It would (or will) be far too easy to "accidentally" take THOMAS offline due to "unexpected upgrade issues" or some other BS excuse.

Re:Opacity in government (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40180333)

i believe that NOT ALLOWING ACCESS is equivalent to taking it down. And we have to be able to access the bills to know that running a line of S**T passed us with no chance to argue or protest the bill. You know it's kinda like the bailout, the original price was 700 Billion and when the public went crazy and basically put washington under a denial of service attack over the protests. And what did congress do they told us they were going to rework the bill and then passed an 850 billion dollar bill in the middle of the night when no one could protest or complain. If we don't know what they are doing in our name how do we have any control. You may as well have appointed leaders with no say in the process, YOU KNOW KINDA LIKE COMMUNISM.

Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (5, Insightful)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178481)

THOMAS may only allow 1 bill at a time, but there are only so many bills before Congress. Download them one at a time and make an external database. Host that site yourself.

The government SHOULD do this, but if they refuse, simply go around them. This is how governments should always be treated: Encouraged when useful, bypassed when not.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178489)

Download them one at a time and make an external database. Host that site yourself.

I am pretty sure I could write a script to do that in one day, and many Slashdotters could do it quicker.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178511)

"Encouraged when useful, bypassed when not."

wtf does that even mean?

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178653)

I think it means collect all the welfare, unemployment, food stamps, etc. you can, and work for cash under the table so you don't pay taxes.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178531)

THOMAS may only allow 1 bill at a time, but there are only so many bills before Congress. Download them one at a time and make an external database. Host that site yourself.

They will figure a way to claim copyright and send DMCA notices to get the site taken down. That assumes they don't just sieze the entire domain and the servers.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178569)

I agree with the sentiment, but I don't think that would be a problem. These bills are part of the public domain. Now Congress could pass a law changing that status...but I don't want to give them any ideas!

Bills don't have to be public domain (1)

overshoot (39700) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178781)

If they're drafted by private parties and then copyright transferred to the US Gov't, Uncle Sam can hold the copyright.

Since the majority of bills are drafted by lobbyists, there's nothing in principle stopping Congress from blocking distribution on the grounds of protecting the copyright on the original special-interest draft and any derivative works.

Re:Bills don't have to be public domain (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178983)

However, there is an incredibly strong fair use argument for such behavior, as in, pretty much the strongest fair use argument ever. If it doesn't get laughed out of court, then it is undeniably time for a bloody revolution.

Re:Bills don't have to be public domain (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180185)

But then they would have to admit that the bills were in fact drafted by lobbyists.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

David Chappell (671429) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178867)

I agree with the sentiment, but I don't think that would be a problem. These bills are part of the public domain. Now Congress could pass a law changing that status...but I don't want to give them any ideas!

That would surely require a constitutional amendment. Otherwise it could hardly be expected to withstand challenge on the basis that it 1) exceeds the powers granted in the Copyright Clause of the US Constitution (since such a law clearly does not promote the progress of Science and the useful arts), and 2) that it violates the first amendment right to discuss public affairs. I would expect the government to be enjoined from enforcing such a law within days if not hours.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

ATMAvatar (648864) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179411)

Nonsense! We need intellectual property protections for the content of proposed bills to encourage these wondrous innovators to create more bills in the future! Why do you hate America?

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (4, Insightful)

anagama (611277) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179477)

That would surely require a constitutional amendment.

Hardly. It would just require our silent acquiescence.

Like how Obama has normalized Bush's radical policies of due process free detention, and has gone a step further with his policy of due process free execution. I mean, if your willing to let the executive branch on its own and in secret be the "due process" in the phrase "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law," then there is absolutely nothing the president can't do because executing American citizens without trial is as big as it gets.

Obama has been the worst thing to happen to freedom and liberty ever -- at least when GWB was doing the things Obama does, Democrats pretended to care and push back. Now they just silently acquiesce, or worse, actively support the constitutional destruction they once opposed (for instance Marty Lederman [salon.com] .

As a liberal, I hate to say it, but we'd be better off with a freak like Santorum as president, who basically promised war with Iran, because then perhaps the Democrats would go back to pretending to care about peace and freedom, and fight back against all this crap. With Obama in the office for another four years though, the damage to civil liberties and freedom will be immense because Democrats will just sit on their hands and let it continue to happen.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40180735)

If you think war would be better than some dysfunctional politics where you don't get exactly what you want, you don't understand war

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178913)

These bills are part of the public domain.

But strangely, as many of us know, the regulations are not part of the public domain.

In fact, a very large portion of U.S. law is proprietary, and if you were to publish or display it in any way you would get sued.

That is the downside of having corporations write those laws.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (5, Interesting)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178623)

THOMAS may only allow 1 bill at a time, but there are only so many bills before Congress. Download them one at a time and make an external database. Host that site yourself.

It would be nice to see a git-tree of legislations (revision history, diffs, who wrote what line when). I'm not expecting governments to do that, but it might be insightful and interesting.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178877)

What would be even nicer is if they required all Bills to be written in some form of structural language.

Imagine being able to query a bill to find the salient points...who it applies to, each specific provision, etc. That would go a long way towards simplification and clarity. Conceivably, you could also do some form of syntax check and "compile" in the sense that you could find provisions that are vague. References to a population that do not have a previously declared definition.

For instance..."All doctors must...or go to jail". Is that doctor of medicine? What about Psychologists and Chemists with a PhD? They are are "Doctors". Are they included? Etc. So you would expect to find at the top of the Bill a definition of Dr.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178997)

We have this discussion every now and then on slashdot, but if you think about it for a while, it is pretty obvious why it wouldn't work.

Justice is not a set of instructions. That law is interpreted by humans and can change in practice over time is a good thing.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (2)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180097)

I would suggest that Justice is implemented via a set of instructions. And that the fact the interpretation of a law changing over time due to different interpretations is a bad thing.

Primary example is the Constitution. It has a very well defined mechanism to make changes that insure those changes are the result of a very broad agreement, which in itself requires a great amount of deliberation. Instead of the interpretation changing, the should change the document.

Laws are more easily changed of course but the same principal applies. Don't interpret it differently, change it.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (2)

ATMAvatar (648864) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179439)

I haven't looked too much at it to determine if it has that kind of fine-grained revision history, but what you are asking for is essentially here [github.com] .

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

haapi (16700) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179463)

"... Rev 1.1 ALEC@master"

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179929)

It would be nice to see a git-tree of legislations (revision history, diffs, who wrote what line when). I'm not expecting governments to do that, but it might be insightful and interesting.

https://github.com/divegeek/uscode [github.com]

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (4, Informative)

wireloose (759042) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178701)

I don't see it as a big issue, either. The original article and the repost here are all FUD. If you read the bill, the congressional concerns are that the legislative data is downloaded intact and authenticated. They seem to be concerned that there is no way to lock an XML file in a manner similar to a PDF, which is already a common format used by much of the federal government. There is also concern about certificates. And there is language about the costs of developing a system. It's all in the bill itself, pages 17 and 18.

http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/LEGBRANCH-FY13-FULLCOMMITTEEREPORT.pdf

Obviously, the biggest issue is that detractors for each party will modify downloaded bills to meet their own political agendas and mudslinging goals. I would prefer to see this done correctly, too.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178885)

Hear Hear!

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (2)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179051)

These "concerns" are all bunk. Just supply an html directory tree of all the pending laws, with each law signed with GPG. You're done. I bet it would cost them less to implement this than to keep Thomas running.

You don't even really need the GPG signatures. If someone edits a law for propaganda purposes, the original version should always be there for reference.

There are no legitimate concerns here. Only stonewalling.

Re:Seems like a problem that could be fixed... (1)

swillden (191260) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180047)

You don't even really need the GPG signatures. If someone edits a law for propaganda purposes, the original version should always be there for reference.

+1.

If there were a concern about partisans being able to break in and alter the version being distributed, that would be legitimate -- but GPG signatures would address it. Outside of that... it has always been possible for people to create fake versions of documents and try to pass them off as the real thing, and yet this doesn't appear to have been an issue for pending legislation in the past.

Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178705)

It is impossible to "bypass" government, by the very nature (and definition) of government: Government is the organization assuming the special "right" to initiate coercion, against non-aggressors, as a business model. That is the only 100% objective definition of government that holds true for all governments that have ever existed, from rag-tag warlords up to world superpowers. In other words, any attempt to "bypass" government will be met with coercion: first the threat of violence, then actual violence -- and if it comes down to it, death.

In conclusion, disobedience and "bypassing" cannot solve the root of the problem: political power, that special "right" to employ coercion, which is the very lifeblood of oppression. The correct, and permanent, solution is to abolish that power, not dance around it.

Conversely, in Canada (2)

davecb (6526) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178493)

The busy little beavers who track bills now include committee hearings. For example, here's some of the debate on the Copyright Act, C-11 [openparliament.ca]

--dave

They're going to rename it DICK (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178521)

(for Dick Nixon and Dick Cheney)

House Committee on Appropriations (3, Informative)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178545)

Since the author of TFA was too lazy to Google for this and paste in a hyperlink, here [house.gov] is the current membership of the House Committee on Appropriations. If one of these jackass^H^H^H^H fine public servants represents your district, you might want to let him/her know what you think of this report.

So! (0)

samjam (256347) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178549)

Not only do congress regularly pass bills that most of them haven't read (https://secure.downsizedc.org/etp/rtba/), they want to make sure that no-one else can read them first either!

Re:So! (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178629)

Well, a government couldn't adequately govern it's people if it understood less of the bills than the people, right?

tfs (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178551)

Don't you sometimes wish that a summary on Slashdot could provide both sides of an issue, rather than telling you what to think in the last sentence?

Straw Man (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178585)

They're not limiting access to the text of the bills, just implementation of a bulk download functionality which doesn't currently exist. Once again, Slashdot creates controversy where there is none to begin with.

Re: /. creates controversy where there is none (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178731)

Wait, what...? Isn't that the purpose of /. .
Did I miss a memo?

Forgive me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178647)

Forgive me, but refusing to fund an upgrade is not the same as forbidding bulk downloads. Bulk downloads are not presently possible. They are not allocating funds to make it possible right now.

You may have noticed that we have some financial issues. Not pouring funds, that we don't have, into a project that you know well will be a disastrous waste of money(like most Federal IT projects) seems prudent at this time of financial crisis.

I don't think that, due to this decision, anyone's freedom is at risk or that the government is trying to lock the constituents out of the process. They are simple maintaining the status quo due to the absence of funds.

Misleading title? (1)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178649)

House Appropriators May Limit Public Availability of Pending Bills

TFA's title is actually more informative: "Hill may freeze THOMAS in digital past". Congress is not actually trying to put in a cap on the download of materials. It merely seeks to maintain the old system where you're forced to download copies of bills one at a time. It's not trying to put a limit but to maintain whatever (technnical) limits are already in place.

Re:Misleading title? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178795)

All in favor, say "Aye!" If one read the relevant parts of the appropriations bill one would see the bill is stating almost the opposite of what this title and summary are implying. If this bill passes it would direct members of the Library of Congress to research and develop a plan to create a new "Thomas" that maintains the authenticity and accountability of the current system while improving it with features like bulk downloading, access to XML versions, improved search capabilities, etc. Until a new "Thomas" is created the current "Thomas" would remain in full operation. There is no reduction in access.

Re:Misleading title? (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178915)

...While trying to figure out the best way to proceed before pouring money down a rat hole.

Git (3, Insightful)

QuantumRiff (120817) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178657)

I know there are all sorts of craziness for bills, but wouldn't something like a Git repository be ideal? that way, you can have the hash of the exact version of the bill your voting on, so the people know stuff wasn't 'slipped in' before it becomes law. Oh, wait, that is probably a 'feature'

Re:Git (2)

swillden (191260) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180189)

I know there are all sorts of craziness for bills, but wouldn't something like a Git repository be ideal? that way, you can have the hash of the exact version of the bill your voting on, so the people know stuff wasn't 'slipped in' before it becomes law. Oh, wait, that is probably a 'feature'

I really need to get some time to work on it some more, but that was exactly the idea I had a few years ago when I set up github repositories to track the US Code [github.com] and Utah Code [github.com] .

Of course, the only data I had easy access to was the codified law, some time after it was passed and went into effect, so my repos only track changes at that point. But, yes, what would be perfect is a distributed version control system that tracks the changes. Each legislator, each committee, each house would have its own fork, as would special interest groups, etc., even individual citizens with ideas about how to improve the law. Everyone could hack on their copies, push and pull changes, etc., all tracked by version history, and with official versions merging changes at point of adoption.

Imagine being able to run "annotate" on the law to find out where each bit of it came from! Of course, true sources would still often be obscured.

My next step, BTW (should I ever get time to hack on it), is to build a web UI that allows easy navigation of the code. I need to switch to pulling the XML version of the US Code from Cornell, then create some XSLT filters to hide some of the extraneous stuff and convert the links into a functional form and some stylesheets to present the code nicely, and finally create a web interface that allows the changes to be navigated and summarized.

What this really means if passed... (0)

3seas (184403) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178719)

....is that they will never decide on a better system but one that will selectively hide or make difficult access to bills they know the public would not approve of.
There is a belief that if a bill passes and becomes law that all the people of a country have agreed to it. Even if they don't know about it, such as spraying populations with things the people would not agree with... as had happened in California when teh people protested and stopped it (not to mention current chem trail spraying of supposed weather modification efforts).

The spraying of a population by land vehicle of air born vehicles with toxins in warfare experimentation is well establish knowledge of happening in the US and Europe and probably Russia too.. But the point here is forbidding the library of congress to continue with whatever level of government transparency they can regardless of any future system and what should instead be a transition, rather than a shut down.

So now do you see the scam?

Re:What this really means if passed... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178769)

The tinfoil is strong with this one!

No, this move helps to avoid public scrutiny. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179187)

This:

they will never decide on a better system but one that will selectively hide or make difficult access to bills they know the public would not approve of.

Re:What this really means if passed... (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179379)

Despite some claiming that this is bunk there is actually truth there. It would appear that there was a large number of documents released in 1994 that confirmed the stories locals (like my mother) had been telling people. I wish I knew where to find those US Army documents as they would be a great addition to the news paper articles I found with a quick Google search. If you are going to make claims like the parents you had better be able to back them up with sources:
Operation LAC [wikipedia.org]
Operation Dew [wikipedia.org]
Army test Sprayed chemical over the city in 1950s [google.com]
Biological warfare tests near Corpus Christi safe, Army says [newsbank.com]
THE ARMY'S SMOKE SCREEN [newsbank.com]
Outstate spraying [newsbank.com]

Say no more (2)

overshoot (39700) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178735)

I am pretty sure that the majority of people on slashdot agree that being able to better understand how the various bills being considered by Congress interact would be good for this country.

And that explains why it must be prevented.

Huh? How to get from Point A to Point B? (2)

sirwired (27582) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178761)

Ok, the appropriations committee wants to delay money for a new system to replace THOMAS. But THOMAS doesn't limit access now, it just sucks. Congress could want to withhold money for a number of reasons, some legitimate (they don't like the bidding process for the new system), some less so (they have a favored systems integrator in mind.)

But if the current system is just lousy, but works, how is withholding a replacement in any way "limiting public availability of pending bills?"

IN OTHER WORDS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40178895)

the republican-lead house of representatives wants to make it more difficulty for voters, media and scholars to see what fucked-up nonsense is going on at the capitol until after the elections for fear of losing control that half the capitol too... along with messing up their party's chance at the white house.

Sounds like we need a house cleaning..... (0)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#40178935)

Starting with a lot of Congress being tried for Treason against the People OF the United states, those found guilty need to face a firing squad and have it televised on C-SPAN.

Problem is the sheep in this country keep voting for these scumbags that want to hide everything so they can try and get away with more.

Govtrack.us (1)

intoxination (1806616) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179017)

Actually there is http://govtrack.us/ [govtrack.us] . You can bulk download from there. They even give you instructions on rsyncing all their data, plus have a rather nice API available.

But Obama (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179067)

I suppose he is in charge of the house too.

Issue is BULK (XML) vs. Single (PDF) downloads (1)

muddysteel (1404041) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179203)

The recommendation has merit regardless of the political motivation. The heart of the issue is how does one TRUST and verify the INTEGRITY of the download when its transported using XML. What's frustrating is someone's inability to agree to rely on existing standards - there's simply no reason to spend more $$$ reinventing / resolving what's already solved. Doesn't the government currently exchange XML-based information today? Isn't that information secured in such a manner that the provider (say, the contractor of the F-22) can be proven and the validity of the message confirmed? Another side-show and the land of the free where matters such as paying people to entertain us is more important than paying people to educate us.

PopVox? (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179209)

How, if at all, would this affect a website like PopVox?

Almost every time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179431)

...our government does something, the same seven words come into my mouth.
"Get me out of this damn country."

What's really going on... (5, Insightful)

sohmc (595388) | more than 2 years ago | (#40179533)

I personally want to have the ability to read any bill that has been introduced. THOMAS is a good system, but horribly outdated. It could be made so much better. But we make do with what we have.

Improvements to the system should be that the database is updated in real-time, or at least as close to real-time as possible. There is no reason why this shouldn't be possible.

My guess, however, is that reps want not to be able to be accountable for their votes. Not many representatives have easy access to their voting record on their official web site. I know my old rep did (Frank Wolf) but my current (Jim Moran) does not. While the information can be found on THOMAS, it adds an additional step.

I know a few months ago, DC Counsel put an unpopular bill available online for comment. It was passed and when it finally it the news, there was outcry. The counsel said, "But you had a chance to comment." The problem was that they hid the bill on their website in a rarely browsed section, obfuscated, and ultimately in a place where no one would think to look. Stepping aside the fact that the news should have picked this up before it was voted on, the fact is that the DC Counsel followed the letter of the law, but not the spirit.

Every politician must be not be trusted, even if they are from "your party" or even if you voted for the guy. The framers had this in mind when writing the Constitution.

The thing that saddens me is that the original intentions of the Founding Fathers has long since gone: a government of the People, by the People, and for the People. I don't see this changing anytime soon.

This Speaker of the House wants it that way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40180361)

This house is led by a man who has in the past been caught handing out lobbyist money on the floor, while in session. He is a lobbyist. He cut funding for congressional staffers under the lie of cutting budgets to save money so the congress itself has less ability to understand the bills they vote upon (this was already a problem but he made it worse.) The money he saved was negligible but the damage and cost to the public is immeasurable, as congressmen then rely even more on lobbyists to interpret and write pending laws for them. Also already a problem but he made it worse.

This is all in addition to basically not getting anything done or having any real planning to solve our problems because the plan has been to keep the black president impotent. Hurting the economy is just another trick; except when they are doing trickle down Reganomics they either believe that farce or are serving their masters who put them in office -- it is hard to distinguish between corruption (I'd include partisan fanatics in that) and adherence to an economic religion.

In the USSR, you dare not criticize communism. In the USA, you can't criticize capitalism - the only difference is in your punishment (not that some of these nuts wouldn't love to put their opponents into work camps if they could; it is possible we fall low enough that their dreams come true.)

/. minority disagrees (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40179871)

Nobody needs to know what's in those bills.
"But we have to pass the...bill so that you can find out what is in it." -- N. Pelosi

Idea (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180011)

  1. Create an open-source THOMAS replacement.
  2. Take criticisms from legislators, fix bugs, and implement feature requests until the feature set is similar / better than existing systems.
  3. Widely and loudly advertise the presence of such a system.
  4. If legislators ignore it, widely and loudly say that they're holding back progress and not being transparent with their governance.

I'm a pretty skilled web developer, anyone want to help?

Re:Idea (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180031)

Also, whose idea was it to make HTML ordered lists in comments have list-style: none? WTF, Slashdot?

Re:Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40180555)

Leave THOMAS in place since they don't want to update it and crowdsource the distribution of the material found there. Only one or two instances of downloading from THOMAS might be needed then the distribution to the rest of the citizenry would be handled by the people themselves depending on their interest in the bill.

Now, if only we could come up with a way for the people to vote on the dang legislation themselves we could do away with most of the corrupt capitol hill mess altogether.

Not so good (1)

shoehornjob (1632387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180433)

I am pretty sure that the majority of people on Slashdot agree that being able to better understand how the various bills being considered by Congress interact would be good for this country.

And thus not so good for politicians who don't really want people to see in advance what the congress is doing. I can see how this could be a conflict of interest (theirs and ours).

Ulterior Motive (1)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 2 years ago | (#40180739)

I'm sure government wants to squeeze its agenda through with minimal "interference" from the public. The more the public is in the dark about what government does, the more power the government has over its citizens. This country is headed down tyranny lane because its citizens are apathetic, frightened, and look to its elected officials as a security blanket. In fact, Americans would sooner government think for them as evidenced in the whole creationism vs. evolution vs. intelligent design. I, for one, am sickened.
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