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House pushes 'Sunshine' measures

Published March 15, 2007


WASHINGTON - Open-government bills sped to House passage Wednesday as Democrats pushed to make President Bush and his executive branch more forthcoming about their actions. The White House struck back with veto threats.

Aided by substantial Republican support, the Democrats approved legislation to force government agencies to be more responsive to the millions of Freedom of Information Act requests for public documents they receive every year.

The House also easily passed bills to require donors to presidential libraries to identify themselves - an issue as Bush prepares for his own library - and to reverse a 2001 Bush decision making it easier for presidents to keep their records from public scrutiny.

Lawmakers also approved a bill to strengthen protection for government whistle-blowers. They cited the failure to expose faulty intelligence about prewar Iraq in expanding protections for national security officials. Employees of federal contractors, airport screeners and government scientists facing retaliation for objecting to political influences are also covered.

Prospects are good for the FOIA bill in the Senate, where it has bipartisan support. The other bills also need Senate action before they can go to the president.

The White House, citing Bush's constitutional prerogatives, warned that the presidential records bill would be vetoed if it reached his desk. A second veto was warned for the whistle-blower bill, saying it was unconstitutional and compromised national security.

The votes were 390-34 on the presidential library bill; 333-93 on the presidential records bill; 308-117 on the FOIA legislation and 331-94 on the whistle-blower bill. All four are part of the media-led Sunshine Week.

The 40-year-old FOIA law was a promise that people could find out what their government was doing "in all but a few kinds of highly sensitive or confidential matters," said Tom Curley, chief executive of the Associated Press and a member of the media Sunshine in Government Initiative.

"For the past six years, we have had an administration that has tried to operate in secrecy, without transparency, without the public having knowledge about their action," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 02:17:48]

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