The old process of a lawmaker asking his colleagues for their signatures on the House floor will have some new competition, starting today.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor is launching a website allowing individual citizens to “cosponsor” bills, the latest in a series of online initiatives to increase transparency of the House.
“We’re in an age where people get their news in a variety of different fashions. This is a way for them to have direct impact on what the discussion is nationally on any particular bill and how it affects them or their communities,” Cantor told National Review Online in an interview in his Capitol office.
The experience of a similar effort, the “We the People” petition website launched by the White House, shows that giving people the opportunity to endorse policy proposals is something that can easily go viral, sometimes in unexpected ways.
For example, 34,435 people signed a petition asking President Obama to “secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.” A top official at the White House Office of Management and Budget was forced to deliver a response which read, in part, that “the administration does not support blowing up planets.”
Unlike “We the People,” Cosponsor.gov is tied to actual legislative proposals that have been introduced by a sitting Member of Congress, limiting the opportunity for shenanigans. But it is not just for Republican bills — every piece of legislation that has been introduced will be up for cosponsorship.
Cantor is in charge of deciding which bills come to the House floor, and I asked him how much weight he would give to the recommendations of the users on his new website. “I don’t think there’s necessarily going to be a threshold,” he said. “I think that it certainly will be one of the things that our Members, both Republican and Democrat, will be able to weigh in terms of how they look at particular issues and bills making their way through the process.”
The site also offers users an easy way to track the progress of legislation as it moves through the House and access each bill’s legislative text.
Cantor and the rest of House leadership have worked since Republicans took the House in 2010 to facilitate online accessibility of information about legislation. Those efforts include making legislation available for bulk download in “XML,” an easily used format, the creation of docs.house.gov, a document repository, and houselive.gov, which offers live video of the House floor and the ability to search floor proceedings by keywords.
“We never can forget that this is a government that belongs to the people and should be working for the people,” Cantor said, adding that he’d like to see similar efforts launched across the government. “This town of Washington is chock full of dinosaur-like agencies sitting on troves of information and data. If we can hook some hoses up to that and allow for innovation to occur, I really believe you can rely on the American people to help innovate so we can solve some of these problems,” he said.