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Home > SPJ News > SPJ Condemns $87 Billion Voice Vote; FOI Committee Seeks Each Senator's Stand on Iraqi Appropriation

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SPJ Condemns $87 Billion Voice Vote; FOI Committee Seeks Each Senator's Stand on Iraqi Appropriation

FOI Alert
11/13/2003


For more information, contact SPJ's Freedom of Information Committee Co-chairs:
Charles Davis: 573/882-5736 or daviscn@missouri.edu
Joel Campbell: 801/422-2125 or joel_campbell@byu.edu

Society of Professional Journalists President Gordon “Mac” McKerral and SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee have called upon United States Vice President Richard Cheney condemning the use of a voice vote to approve the Administration’s $87 billion Iraq operations and reconstruction spending request. (Read the letter to Cheney at the bottom of this alert.)

In addition, members of the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee are calling each member of the United States Senate, asking them to state for the record their vote on the appropriation bill. The results will be posted on the SPJ web site at www.spj.org

The letter said: “SPJ is fully aware that the Congressional branch is subject to none of the statutory requirements – the Federal Freedom of Information Act and the Government in the Sunshine Act – mandating public access to its votes. Congress is constitutionally autonomous in this regard: free to make its own rules about how publicly it conducts the people’s business.

We are dismayed, however, to learn that the Senate decided to conduct a voice vote to approve such a massive investment in what has become a topic of national debate and discussion.”

National Public Radio’s senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr, pointed out in his Nov. 5 “All Things Considered” commentary that it was the biggest such emergency appropriation ever sought by a president. Any of the six senators present could have suggested the absence of a quorum and called for absent members to return for a recorded vote; none did. Schorr said that the understanding that there would be no recorded vote to provide some future embarrassment had been worked out in advance by majority and minority leaders Bill Frist and Tom Daschle.

Schorr observed:

“Now if you want to know how your senator voted, or would have voted, on the multibillion-dollar Iraq package, you'll have to ask him or her and hope that he or she will tell you.”

The six senators who voted publicly on the bill were:
* Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
* Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.
* Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
* Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii
* Harry Reid, D-Nev.
* Ted Stevens, R-Alaska

At the Senate’s vote, Byrd shouted a loud "No!" The other five voted "Yes."

As the letter to Cheney states, “the embrace of secrecy in a vote of such national and international interest reflects poorly on the world’s model for democratic governance.”

No legislative body in the 50 states, from the smallest city council or school board to the state legislatures themselves, would be allowed to approve the most modest appropriation off the record, much less one of historic proportions and consequence. The United States Senate’s approach to the Iraq spending approval flies in the face of traditions we have come to regard as fundamental: that Congress serves at the mercy of the people, and that people have a civic duty to monitor the actions of their elected representatives.

If you would like to volunteer for duty in the fight to have the Senate vote on the record, contact Charles Davis at daviscn@missouri.edu


SPJ Letter to Vice President Cheney


November 13, 2003
The Honorable Richard Cheney
Vice President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

RE: Unrecorded Voice Vote on Iraq Operations and Reconstruction Funding

Dear Mr. Vice President:

The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest nonprofit association of working journalists, writes to you in your capacity as president of the Senate to express its deep displeasure with the use of a voice vote to approve the Administration’s $87 billion Iraq operations and reconstruction spending request.

SPJ is fully aware that the Congressional branch is subject to none of the statutory requirements – the Federal Freedom of Information Act and the Government in the Sunshine Act – mandating public access to its votes. Congress is constitutionally autonomous in this regard: free to make its own rules about how publicly it conducts the people’s business.

We are dismayed, however, to learn that the Senate decided to conduct a voice vote to approve such a massive investment in what has become a topic of national debate and discussion.

National Public Radio’s senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr, pointed out in his November 5 “All Things Considered” commentary that it was the biggest such emergency appropriation ever sought by a president. Any of the six senators present could have suggested the absence of a quorum and called for absent members to return for a recorded vote; none did. Schorr said that the understanding that there would be no recorded vote to provide some future embarrassment had been worked out in advance by majority and minority leaders Bill Frist and Tom Daschle.

Schorr observed:

“Now if you want to know how your senator voted, or would have voted, on the multibillion-dollar Iraq package, you'll have to ask him or her and hope that he or she will tell you.”

The embrace of secrecy in a vote of such national and international interest reflects poorly on the world’s model for democratic governance. No legislative body in the 50 states, from the smallest city council or school board to the state legislatures themselves, would be allowed to approve the most modest appropriation off the record, much less one of historic proportions and consequence. The United States Senate's approach to the Iraq spending approval flies in the face of traditions we have come to regard as fundamental: that Congress serves at the mercy of the people, and that people have a civic duty to monitor the actions of their elected representatives.

SPJ asks you to disclose the voting record on the Iraq funding measure. We also ask for Congress to address an amendment to the appropriate Senate rules that would prohibit off-the-record voting on any measure in the future and certainly those involving major and controversial policy matters.

Sincerely,
Gordon “Mac” McKerral
President, SPJ


Co-signers:
Charles N. Davis
Co-Chair, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee
Executive Director, Freedom of Information Center
University of Missouri School of Journalism

Joel Campbell
Co-Chair, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee
Assistant Professor of Journalism
Brigham Young University

----- SPJ FOI ALERT SUBSCRIPTION NOTE -----
SPJ FOI Alert Vol. 9; No. 3

To subscribe to the Society of Professional Journalists FOI Alert, contact SPJ at spj@spj.org or call 317/927-8000. In your message, provide your name, organization, mailing address, e-mail address, phone number and fax number. There is no fee. We strongly encourage the wide dissemination and publication of these alerts in other forums.

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317/927-8000

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