Posts Tagged ‘Bills’


Congress Needs A Read-The-Bill Bill

July 13, 2009


Congress Needs A Read-The-Bill Bill


Honesty: Lawmakers voted on the stimulus and global warming bills without having read either. Eventually they’ll vote on health care legislation that could fund unrelated items. Time to end this systemic fraud.

Related Topics: General Politics

The stimulus bill, signed into law less than a month after Barack Obama took office, reached 1,434 pages and will eventually cost the nation more than $1 trillion.

Waxman-Markey, the global warming bill, passed the House last month after Democrats added a 309-page amendment at 3 a.m. the morning before the vote, bringing that package of nonsense up to 1,200 or so pages.

The next piece of deception up for legislative consideration is the $1.6 trillion health care bill, a Washington lightweight at a mere 615 pages. The Boston Globe reports that it contains a provision for funding walking paths, bike paths, streetlights, gym equipment and farmers’ markets.

We’d like to say the dishonesty of fixing those items to a health care bill is staggering. But we’ve become accustomed to Congress operating in secret and obscuring its activities.

Before it votes on health care, we have in mind another bill that Congress should take up. This one should be short, just a few words. It would be far more important to the future of the republic than fevered legislation establishing a public option for health care coverage or vainly trying to manipulate the climate.

This humble bill would simply require each member of Congress to sign a document saying he or she had read the legislation in full before they could vote for it.

Lawmakers should never vote for a bill they haven’t read in its entirety. If a bill cannot be read and thoroughly understood in one sitting, it’s too long. It shouldn’t take much longer to read a bill that enacts statutory law than it does to read this editorial.

Convincing our current elected officials to make law more honestly is likely to be an almost hopeless job. They’ll insist that minding the people’s business is a complicated affair that requires extensive policy craft. But good law that’s brief is not out of the question.

The Declaration of Independence, the grand document that founded our country, was written in only 1,337 words.

The Constitution, which set up the federal government and laid down its parameters, is, without the amendments and signatures, roughly 4,440 words. It is the shortest constitution in the world.

The Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution that established personal liberties that the government cannot quash, was composed in fewer than 600 words.

Part of the beauty of these documents is that the founders didn’t need to write lengthy diatribes to distill large concepts, and to show remarkable measures of wisdom, prescience and courage. The words are clear, their meanings unambiguous.

Yet today’s lawmakers write and pass 1,200- and 1,400-page bills filled with ponderous language and laden with re-election pork. What they don’t have is the backbone to make policy openly. They bury what they don’t want voters to know about inside massive volumes that they don’t even bother to read. Today’s Congress makes a mockery of our founders’ genius and of our founding in general.

Any bill that requires lawmakers to read legislation and to swear they’ve done so before voting for it should also include a provision that says the bills have to be available online for the public to read before they’re brought to the floor for a vote.

A group called Let Freedom Ring is asking lawmakers to pledge they’ll read legislation before voting on it. It believes a bill should be publicly accessible 72 hours before a vote.

We’d prefer a slightly larger window, but getting just three days of light on proposed law would be an achievement. Congress knows that the longer the public has to think about what’s in a bill, the harder it is to ram through. That’s why the Democrats are in such a hurry to move cap-and-trade and health care legislation.

This topic reminds us of the premise that the only legitimate government is one so limited that it can hardly be considered a government at all. It should be roughly the same for lawmaking: Any bill that goes beyond the basics should never be considered legislation. That would bring needed sunshine to a murky federal process. Only politicians and those who feed off of them wouldn’t be better off.