As often as we see instances of partisan politics and gridlock coming out of Washington, D.C., there are occasional glints of light, hope that the stalemate might be broken and we might move forward on any number of issues facing the country.
One recent glint is legislation proposed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.: The Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2014. Proposed last month by the duo who a year ago negotiated the two-year budget agreement that ended the government shutdown, the act would create a 15-member bipartisan commission charged with finding methods to improve the gathering of federal data used to evaluate tax and spending programs. The panel’s members, representing economics, statistics, data security and other relevant areas, would be appointed by Senate majority and minority leaders, the House speaker and minority leader and the president.
The panel’s work to recommend policies to simplify the streams of information used in writing legislation is seen as key to lawmaking in Congress, allowing it to begin work to reform the tax code and implement efficiencies in government spending.
Commission members would have 15 months to prepare and submit recommendations to the president and Congress, with approval of 12 or more of the members.
One might hope that all of Congress’ work already is “evidence-based,” but there doesn’t always seem to be a high level of respect for or attention paid to data and facts.
Also late last month, the Republican-led House passed House Resolution 1422, which along with clearing a path for industry experts to be added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board, would also muzzle members of that board from participating in “advisory activities” that are drawn directly or indirectly from their own work or research. In other words, an expert in a particular field — for instance the effects of mercury on brain development in children, as has been studied by science board member Dr. Thomas Burbacher of the University of Washington — would be prevented from providing information based on his or her work out of an absurdly misplaced concern that such advice represented a conflict of interest.
Supporters of the bill, which passed 229-191, apparently are having difficulty discerning the difference between opinion and evidence and should be reminded that each of us has the right to our own opinions but not to our own facts.
We’ll need the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act, but Murray and Ryan might want to consider vastly broadening its scope to issues beyond taxes and spending.