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9/25/2009
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Congressman 'Crowdsources' Healthcare Bill

Texas Republican John Culberson has posted the House healthcare bill online and invited constituents to annotate it using a Web 2.0 collaboration tool.

Many of the comments simply discussed details of the plan, without expressing an overall preference pro or con.

The bill posted on the site does not include recent amendments from the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Workforce committees. Culberson criticized those committees for failing to release the amendments to the public. "None of us has been able to see the bill as amended by committee," he said.

"My first and strongest objection is the secrecy with which this massive legislation is being pushed, jammed through the Congress with virtually no public scrutiny," he said.

While Obama has driven use of Web 2.0 technologies for opening government, Republicans have also been using social media, and Culberson has been a leader of that effort. "Social media allows you to be a better representative by communicating better with constituents, and bypassing the old elite media," he said. "We're not too far away from achieving realtime democracy in America, and that can only be healthy for Congress, the country, and the restoration of the Constitution."

Culberson started on Twitter May 26, after being shown the service by one of his constituents, Erica O'Grady, in a Starbucks. "She showed me Twitter and Facebook and a light switch went off in my head -- just like when I saw SharedBook," Culberson said. "I thought, 'This is essential. This is going to become a fundamental part of the job." He said he signed up that day for Twitter, Facebook, and Qik, a service which allows posting realtime video to the Internet. He's @johnculberson on Twitter, with 12,773 followers and following 12,342; has 2,013 Facebook friends; and is johnculberson on Qik, with 120 videos totaling 18 hours, 22 minutes.

A team of researchers from the University of Maryland studied Congressional Twitter postings, and rated Culberson the top Congressional Twitter user, saying he has the most active Twitter account in Congress, engaging regularly with constituents and challenging Democratic leadership.

"Communicating through social media in a personalized way that is tailored to our constituents' interest will become an expected and normal part of the future as elected representatives," he said. "It's self-evident and a lot of fun."

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