Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 23, 2014

Ralph Nader Makes a Pitch for the Luddite Vote, Blasts GPO’s Net Focus

Serial presidential candidate Ralph Nader has found a new cause: trying to shame the Government Printing Office and the Joint Committee on Printing into forgetting what century it is.

The consumer gadfly thinks the government is focusing too much on online information at the expense of print.

“The Joint Committee is so inert that it would be considered un-newsworthy to write about them, but they’re the cause of many of the problems afflicting GPO and limiting ready and affordable access to public information,” Nader told Roll Call in an interview this afternoon.

Nader’s Center for Study of Responsive Law released a report today concluding that 50 million poor, elderly and rural residents are being “left behind” and “increasingly disconnected from their government” in the Internet age. The report, titled “The Peoples’ Printer: Time for a Reawakening,” recommends the GPO get a funding boost so it can print more copies of bills, hearing transcripts, the Congressional Record and other documents and sell them to distributors.

Nader says the GPO has played a vital role in disseminating government information for 150 years, but the printing office’s recent emphasis on providing information online “threatens the GPO’s self-proclaimed mission to ‘keep America informed.’”

Full disclosure: Nader holds a personal grudge against electronic reading materials.
“I could go into all kinds of reasons why print has superiority over online,” he said.

He won’t use a computer, doesn’t have an email address and refuses to read from a Kindle or other electronic media. He writes his own news columns by pen or pencil and has an assistant handle all things Internet-related.

But Nader says he’s not alone. “Just picture the scene: People don’t have a computer, [have] no broadband connections, are poor, don’t have the eyesight to read screens.”

His request that the GPO print more documents flies in the face of lawmakers’ plans to grow online access while slowing print — a plan Nader calls “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Congress has been slicing GPO’s budget for the past several years. Fiscal 2013 legislative branch spending measures in both chambers, for example, will likely cut funding for Congressional printing by 8 percent.

Republicans will be particularly perturbed by the Nader recommendation — if they take him seriously, that is. The printing office is a fond target for fiscal hawks. When Republicans won the House majority in 2010, one of their first orders of business was to tackle the GPO’s printing practices, which they had likened to the useless “ice buckets” distributed in Congress decades ago. Some even proposed dispensing with the printing office completely.

So far, Nader has had little success getting the joint printing panel to listen. Joint Printing Committee Chairman Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) refused to meet with him, he says, and the majority staff was slow to answer his inquiries. That might have something to do with Nader’s description of the panel as a “stagnant unimaginative lazy committee.”

One panel staffer who asked not to be named said Nader’s recommendations are flat-out “nonsensical” in the 21st century.

“It’s hard to imagine a day and age where we see GPO being required to print thousands of copies of Congressional materials that go directly into the recycling bin, that GPO would need to spend additional taxpayer dollars printing things that wouldn’t see the light of day,” the staffer said.

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