Stimulus bill under veil of secrecy

Lee H. Hamilton: Guest columnist

In the official record, you’ll find the economic stimulus package recently passed by Congress was drawn up by a conference committee — a bipartisan group of House members and senators who sat down together to wrangle over its fine print.

In truth, nothing like this took place.

To be sure, a conference committee met, as is supposed to happen when legislation passed by the House differs from the version passed by the Senate. But it was more for show than for actual debate and deliberation.

Instead, like much legislation over the last decade and a half, the final version of the stimulus bill was pieced together behind closed doors by a handful of lawmakers. Then it was put to a vote before their colleagues could conceivably read the whole thing, let alone digest its implications. As Slate Magazine’s John Dickerson put it, “the stimulus deal was so opaque even the people negotiating it weren’t in on what was in it.”

This may be par for the course in Washington now, but it’s hard to argue our democracy has benefited as a result.

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