House Speaker Unaware of Plans to Bring Up FOIA Bill

11 December 2014

Republican House Speaker John Boehner Dec. 11 gave no encouragement to supporters of a freedom of information reform bill clinging to hope for last-minute House passage of a bill with no known congressional opponents.

“I have no knowledge of what the plan is for that bill,” Boehner said when asked about it by a reporter at a late morning news conference.

The Speaker has been focused on fashioning a spending package for the government, a massive bill that is facing objections from both the left and right and was expected to  come to a vote Dec. 11. Its defeat could prolong the congressional session.

Boehner said, “If we don’t get finished today, we’ll be here until Christmas.”

Delay might help FOIA supporters, who have been trying to build a groundswell for the bill, which has bipartisan authorship and passed both bodies without a “no” vote. The bill was approved Dec. 8 in the Senate and the House sponsors agreed to accept the Senate bill as the most expeditious way to get the bill through.  (See previous report.) The Senate bill is very similar to legislation approved by the House in February on a 410-0 vote.

There have been signs of quiet lobbying against it, however.

Banking lobbyists are urging House leaders not to bring up the bill, according to House, Senate and pro-bill sources. (See article.)

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) joined the rest of his Senate colleagues in voting for the bill after being given assurances by the bill’s sponsors.

A section was inserted into the committee report on the bill (S. 2520) and an arranged dialogue on the floor was held between Johnson and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Both methods were intended to provide promises that the bill’s reforms would not alter the primary exemption protecting government records about financial institutions. (See article.)

The primary House sponsors have called for a vote, as have many other supporters of the bill, including a coalition of about 70 public interest groups.

“For all of his talk about the desire of House Republicans to hold the Obama Administration accountable, we are shocked and angered that Speaker Boehner would decide to allow a bill that strengthens and reforms the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) die without a vote,” Danielle Brian, Chair of and Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), said in a statement.

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