New-media tools boost transparency, help to hold Congress accountable


As a freshman I worked with other reform-minded colleagues in the “Gang of Seven” to close the House Bank and stop illegal activities within the House Restaurant and Post Office. Back then, we brought our case to the House Floor and hoped that America was watching C-SPAN. Looking back, if we had been able to enlist today’s social-media tools, I have no doubt that our efforts to clean up Congress would have been bolstered by millions of Americans following our progress and lending their support in real time.

In some respects, Congress is just beginning to utilize “Web 2.0,” but House Republicans are quick learners, and have been at the vanguard in using new-media tools to communicate with the American people.

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In fact, the Washington Times reported earlier this year that, “Eight out of the top 10 congressional channels on [YouTube] belong to members of the Republican Party.” Some videos spread across the Internet like wildfire, as Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) can attest. His opening statement during the House Energy and Commerce Committee markup of the Democrats’ government-run healthcare bill has been seen by more than 4.6 million people.

House Republicans have developed innovative ways to use YouTube to communicate with their constituents, such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Utah) “cot-side chats.” Other members, including myself, use YouTube to answer constituent questions and raise awareness for the important issues affecting American families and small businesses.

House Republicans haven’t limited ourselves to YouTube; we’ve been active participants on Twitter as well. Just last month, a Congressional Research Service report noted that “during the data collection periods in July and August 2009 … House Republicans sent the most tweets (54 percent), followed by House Democrats (27 percent),” despite our numerical disadvantage.

While my colleagues and I appreciate the new megaphone the Web has afforded us, it’s critical that we remember social media isn’t a one-way street.

The American people are using Twitter and YouTube to make themselves heard, and we’re listening. If there’s one message we’re hearing over and over, it’s “read the bill” — a reform whose time has come.

Americans understand what’s happening here in Washington. They know that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has denied the American people the opportunity to know the details of major bills before they’ve been rammed through the House — from the Democrats’ trillion-dollar “stimulus” in February to their “cap and trade” national energy tax the Speaker forced through the House in June.

Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas) and Brian Baird (D-Wash.) have introduced a resolution that would require all bills to be posted online publicly for at least 72 hours before they are brought to a vote. But Speaker Pelosi is blocking a vote on this bipartisan proposal, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority (83 percent) of the American people support it.

As of this writing, more than 180 members of Congress have signed a “discharge petition” introduced by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) that would force the Speaker to allow a vote on this important bipartisan proposal. But we’re still 40 votes short.

Last week, we learned that Democratic leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee quietly made more than 70 substantive changes to the text of the panel’s healthcare bill after it was voted on in committee. The changes were made without a vote and without the knowledge of the committee’s Republican members. This is outrageous, and Republicans will introduce a resolution changing House rules to require committees to post the actual text of adopted bills and amendments online within 24 hours to prevent similar acts of deception.

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Whether it’s passing massive spending bills no one in America has read, or making secret changes to bills after they’ve already been passed by committees, “business as usual” in Congress needs to end. Americans should be allowed to read the text of all bills online within 24 hours after they are approved by congressional committees.

The American people deserve a Congress that is transparent and accountable to the people it serves. When the American people get involved, Congress listens. Thanks to the Web and social media, the American people are more involved in their government than ever before.

Boehner is the House Republican leader.