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Transparency Groups Assail House GOP Maneuver to Send Debt Bill to Senate

House Speaker John Boehner has decided to use a Senate bill as a vehicle to send his debt reduction plan over to the Senate, arguing it will save time as the deadline draws near for an Aug. 2 potential government default.

But a D.C. watchdog group says Boehner ironically picked the wrong bill, the Faster FOIA Act, which was designed to set up a commission to find ways to increase transparency in government on the 45th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act. The watchdog argues transparency has been largely absent during the months-long debate on a debt deal.

“If House leadership wishes to make good on their pledge to improve transparency and accountability, they should not kill this good government bill with strong bipartisan support as a political maneuver,” said Angela Canterbury, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight. “Instead, they should walk their talk by making the Faster FOIA Act law.”

The Senate passed the bill in May but the House never took action on it. The legislation would set up an advisory panel to review agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests and provide recommendations to Congress for legislative and administrative action to improve agency responses to the requests.

But now House Republican leaders plan to put the text of Boehner’s bill in the shell of the Senate legislation to expedite the upper chamber’s consideration.

In short, it turns the Senate vehicle – in this case the FOIA bill – into a House amendment, which is privileged in the Senate. That would eliminates the open government provision but also eliminates at least one of the hurdles in the Senate by cutting the number of procedural votes, making a vote on final passage possible in three days instead of five.

But watchdog groups aren’t happy about the maneuver.

“This is a setback for openness and accountability,” said Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org. “Whether it is House leadership’s intent or not, this move erases a record of bipartisan support to finally address some of the greatest impediments to access under the FOIA.”

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