WASHINGTON - July 26 - Policy experts and key stakeholders spoke out today calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to reject two "sunset commission" bills. The House will vote this week on both bills, under which unelected commissions would be given the authority to recommend sweeping changes in the federal government and force those changes through Congress.
During a telephone press conference today, Robert Shull of the Washington-based watchdog group OMB Watch explained that sunset commissions would be a breeding ground for cronyism and more industry influence on public policy. “Congress should not be giving its job to an unelected, unaccountable commission,” Shull said.
Gabriela Lemus, legislative director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, briefed reporters on her organization's opposition to the two bills, citing the threat that such commissions pose to the most vulnerable members of society. “What we're seeing is an effort, under the guise of government efficiency, to basically undermine many of the programs that our community is reliant upon,” said Lemus.
Rick Weidman, executive director for policy and government affairs for the Vietnam Veterans of America, stressed that the commissions would operate without proper public scrutiny. Veterans, according to Weidman, “pledge life and limb to defend the Constitution of the United States, not some star chamber that is held out of public view and in the shadows someplace.”
Former Texas State Senator O.H. "Ike" Harris, a Republican who sat on the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, discussed the state's experience with a sunset commission. The commission was enacted in 1977 as a "good government" measure, but has since been widely criticized as impractical, wasteful of government resources, and co-opted by special interests. “Sunset is not workable and is beholden to nobody,” commented Harris.
Finally, Barbara Coufal of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees emphasized the dangers such commissions pose for America's working families. In particular, Coufal pointed to both bills failing to shield any program from the commission's purview, not even entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) also put out a statement today opposing sunsets. In it, Boehlert opposed “both the Brady and Tiahrt bills, both of which are cures worse than any current Congressional ‘disease.’” Boehlert went on to say of the Brady bill, that “[h]aving agencies automatically disappear without any further debate is not a great way to exercise democratic processes.”
In a letter sent to lawmakers last month, 300 national and local organizations representing the human services, environmental, labor, and faith communities called on Congress to reject sunset commission proposals. While similar legislation has been proposed a number of times, this week will be the first time that a stand-alone sunset commission bill has been brought to the House floor.
- Sunset Commission Resource Center: www.OMBWatch.org/sunset
- Sign-on letter to Congress signed by 300+ organizations: www.ombwatch.org/regs/2006/Sunset-sign-on-letter-House-LATEST.pdf
- Interview availability (representatives of groups opposing "sunset" legislation): call Anna Oman, (202) 234-8494