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Compare Votes Head-to-Head in Advance of Tonight's SoTU

January 25, 2011 - by David Moore

Just a reminder that ahead of tonight’s #SoTU bipartisan seating plan, you can compare any two members’ head-to-head voting record on major bills from the previous 110th and 11th Congresses. At the bottom of each page is a link to view all voting comparison information for all bills. Of course, not every member will have roll call data for us to draw on — some were newly elected to the previous 111th Congress.

We’ll load new bills from the current 112th Congress into this as soon as our modest web development resources allow — would you like to support our open-source efforts to build public knowledge about Congress? Fund our non-profit work!

See, for example, ideological opposites Sens. Coburn (R-OK) and Schumer (D-NY), who plan to buddy up, or to pick two others with different approaches, Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) & Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). (Add’l note: currently, votes-with-party percentages for senators are 0%, b/c the 112th U.S. Senate has not yet commenced roll call votes… such data will of course be forthcoming.)

Re: the bi-partisan seating plan, I don’t want to be too critical of it, as the occasion was a tragic one, but I do think that mainstream media is giving a disproportionate amount of coverage to what clearly smacks of a gimmick. Again, to be clear, I think tonight’s symbol is heartfelt & even a bit uplifting (really). (Though there was a compelling alternative seating plan suggested here.) But to take the issue of partisan gridlock seriously, my colleagues of experienced Congress-watchers can verify, in much greater detail & citing historical evidence & contemporary malfunctions, that tonight’s seating arrangement doesn’t represent a serious and sustained effort at reforming the broken parliamentary process we’ve seen take hold in the House and especially the Senate over the past four years. Many more links can be pulled up here to make my case, but to continue in brief — the State of the Union is a nice theatrical gateway for more casual political observers to tune in and get engaged with the political process. It’s cool that people like it, and as I think that what government does is important, premiere signaling events from government are also important. Nights like this set the conversation & priorities for what our government does.

But again, I feel there’s a disproportionate amount of press attention set up around this specatcle — this is not an idiosyncratic view, I believe it to be fairly widely-shared in the #opengov community — and organizations like ours that seek comprehensive reform of our broken representative democracy should do our best to place it in a more critical context. I’d like to see #opengovdata trending on the micropublishing services instead of #SoTU. I’d like to see political bloggers using their megaphones to demand real-time access to roll call data, campaign donation information, and revisions to official bill text (i.e., OpenGovData). I’d like to see the mainstream media picking up the ongoing calls of the money-in-politics watchdogs (e.g. OpenSecrets, Sunlight Foundation, MAPLight, NIMSP, Common Cause, and many more) to build stronger ethics laws & even real-time by-default robust financial disclosure into government rules. Most of all, I’d like to see a broad community of reformers coming together with Fix Congress First to demand public financing of federal elections as a common-sense first step in cleaning up government. And that’s just a few worthy causes … all of this can happen under the banner of #SoTU coverage, and likely on many blogs & online media outlets it will, but I’d like to encourage everyone to minimize the pomp and focus on the substance. I’d like to see Sheila Krumholz & Ellen Miller on cable news discussing the saturation of money-in-politics surrounding the issues discussed in the SoTU more than the usual gang of inside-the-Beltway, who’s “winning the evening”, who’s up and who’s down commentators… for our part, we’ll invest more of our time into public explication of what Prof. Lessig has termed systemic corruption (more on Lessig wiki) and its real-world effects.

Nothing short of Open Government Data is sufficient for a trustworthy degree of transparency in our representative democracy. It’s a severe deficit to open public knowledge that we don’t have it. if you stood back and asked yourself the question, “In America in 2001, do we have a free & open real-time data stream to vote results from Congress?” — you’d likely think the answer was yes. It’s not. We don’t have it. And that’s just roll calls, much less the more important heftier info of campaign finance disclosures and which legislative assistants met with which lobbyists & advoacy groups in crafting and revising which specific sections of bill text, or even participatory budgeting. The technology to track all this can be implemented straightforwardly and the appetite for such meaningful bill data is voracious… all we need is the political will to overcome the bureaucratic and short-term-partisan hurdles in our way. If you’d like to contribute to our efforts, become a PPF Booster (link directs to PayPal) to donate $1/day to our 501c3 org. so that we can contract with a professional non-profit fundraiser and scale up our user-friendly open-source web tools for enforcing transparency in government. Or simply sign up for our email list on our homepage and help us buiid amazing new tools for deliberative democracy in America and around the world.

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