The last week of December 2009 found President Obama and his family on vacation in Hawaii, the Congress in recess, and the District of Columbia calm and serene under a cover of snow that was beautiful to behold. This peaceful moment is far different from the Washington of the preceding weeks and months, when a continuing lack of civility among and between members of both political parties and their respective supporters made substantive debate of pressing legislation more of a wish than a reality.
Sadly, the moment is certain to end in early 2010 when Congress returns to continue efforts to address health care reform, the exploding federal deficit, new employment and related economic recovery initiatives, global warming/climate change proposals, financial markets regulatory reform, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, judicial and executive branch nominations, and other pressing matters.
As 2010 is an election year for one-third of the Senate and all of the House of Representatives, the electorate and the press must insist on full transparency of the legislative process afforded each contentious legislative proposal. That transparency should entail publication of the text of proposed legislation and amendments sufficiently far enough in advance of legislative action to allow for analysis by the public, the press, and, most importantly, those voting on the bill. As we learned from the limited transparency of the process by which the Senate on Christmas Eve passed its version of health care reform legislation, securing the votes necessary for passage of contentious legislation can result in withholding the availability of the full text of the bill until the very last minute and acquiescing in special deals/earmarks for the votes needed for passage. Such conduct, while perhaps part of a legislative process acceptable to those willing to go along to get along can go too far. When it does, it should have consequences at the polls, both for those demanding and those acquiescing in the special deals/earmarks.
As I have said before, we senior lawyers have much to bring to these legislative debates, not the least of which is our expertise and the stature that comes with age to insist that the discourse on these momentous subjects be thorough, substantive, and civil. Your participation will help to improve the process.