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Make the Bastards Read the Bills

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It’s a dirty little secret, but your representatives in Washington often don’t actually read the important legislation they vote on. After all, they’re busy fellows, they have so many parties to attend and speeches to make, who can expect them to read 400 pages on farm subsidies or 1200 pages of the Patriot Act. With amendments and modifications some of them don’t even get to read the entirety of the bills they’re sponsoring, much less those they’re just signing off on.

So when it’s time to vote on whether or not DEA agents can seize your house because someone threw a bag of pot in your yard, or whether it’s okay for Homeland Security to bug your cellphone without approval from a judge, the people making the decisions probably only read a summary of the legislation written by an aide who’s fresh out of college and doesn’t have anything better to do. Or far too often, they don’t even read a summary at all, and instead vote based on what a lobbyist, or a colleague or a party leader tells them to do.

A bad law can seriously screw up your life, so don’t you think the guy you put in office to look out for your interests ought to at least read the bill before it becomes a law so that he can make an informed decision on it?

Well, the brilliant guys at Downsize DC think so, and they’ve come up with a great idea – a short, simple bill which anyone can read in a couple of minutes which requires every member of Congress to read every piece of legislation they vote on before being allowed to place their vote.

The hope is that at the very least this will result in some of the excessive language being trimmed out of the bills, and hopefully maybe even result in some unnecessary legislation actually being noticed and stopped before it gets to the floor of the House and gets passed by representatives who are barely paying attention to what they’re voting on at all and just going through the motions. It might also mean fewer last minute amendments and sudden wording changes, and more attention to the actual content of the bills by everyone involved. A lot of legislation currently gets passed which might not if more legislators were actually familiar with all of the contents. This proposed bill could very easily result in clearer, simpler and fewer laws, and it’s hard to see how that could be anything but good.

We pay our representatives a lot of money and give them our trust and support. That obligates them to do a conscientious job and put our best interests first. If they aren’t reading the bills they pass they aren’t really doing the job we elected them to do, so let’s make them give every piece of legislation the attention which it deserves. We may not be able to make them think deep thoughts about every provision in every bill, but we can at least make them read everything and hope that they start to notice and maybe think twice about some of the garbage they’ve been rubber stamping over the years.

If this sounds like a good idea to you, stop by Downsize DC and do what you can to help. What they particularly need right now is people who will write to their representatives to get sponsors for the bill in the House and Senate. Getting Congress to consider a citizen-initiated bill is a longshot, but if they can get sponsors and get the bill onto the docket, there’s a good chance that no one will bother to read it before they vote and pass it into law.

Dave





All Contents of this article copyright 2005, Dave Nalle
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About Dave Nalle

  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/dorksandlosers Tan Hoang

    It’s true. This is the worst part of the country’s bureaucracy and where the number of fellow party members helps. When one party controls the House or Senate, things move quicker and almost unopposed. And these lawmen make over $100,000/year doing what looks like sit and sign their names on random pieces of paper.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Single party control certainly makes it worse. There’s a certain enthusiasm which seems to grasp them to go along with the herd on anything that gets thrown infront of them.

    But even in more balanced circumstances there’s a tendancy to trust what comes out of committee and to say ‘oh well, we have to have a tax bill, and this is it, and no one has told me anything bad about it, so here’s my vote.’ That sort of pure laziness really doesn’t cut it.

    And I’m not talking out of my hat here. I worked on both sides of the Hill and my mother worked in the Senate for 20 years and brought back regular horror stories. If you don’t believe me, watch c-span sometime – maybe you’ll catch Sen. Howell Heflin sleeping during a committee meeting.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    I wanted to say ‘thanks’ for both the very informational post and the web ref. (which I immediately went to & signed up for). Somehow, my original kudos for your article ended up posted to the one about Scientology (!?). Anyway, excellent and valuable reference and article. Many thanks.

  • Killing Joke

    What a clever idea. Thanks for telling us about it. On the one hand I understand why it is difficult for congressmen and senators to read these enormous bills, but something like this might make them think twice about how many meaningless laws they are passing, even if it doesn’t get passed and become a law.

  • dee

    No wonder such screwy laws are passed. My cousin could have lost her house because when she was on vacation, her son had some friends over and one of them had some kind of drugs on him. Luckily her daughter called her and told her about it and she came home early and cleaned house cause she could have lost it over something her son’s friend did and that is totally stupid.

    thanks for telling us about downsize.

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    Pardon my cynicism, but do you really think any Congresscritter will vote for a bill that requires him (or her) to work harder?

    Don’t hold your breath…

  • dee

    Dr Prat…You DO have a point. They are not known for thinking.

  • Nancy

    Or wanting to take responsibility for anything they might be fingered for later. They DO take money, trips, and all kinds of special privileges, tho….

  • http://leoniceno.journalspace.com Leoniceno

    And how, pray tell, will you verify that they have read all the bills?

    I think that in terms of actual legislative process this is ridiculous. Certainly, we want our legislators to be informed, and we want them to be working hard for us, but the way to get them to do that is not through legislation. It’s through elections.

    Requiring everyone to read a 1200 page omnibus bill before voting on it will accomplish nothing and will not be enforced. How about we propose a resolution instead? It can go like this:

    Resolved: that the United States Congress shall faithfully perform it’s duty.

    It would accomplish the same amount.

  • SFC SKI

    So now we have to be discerning and elect repsonsible representatives? Where does theis madness end?

    Note to a very few, this is sarcams. Given some of the rabid reactions here lately, I feel I have to put this in writing.

  • BillB

    It’s just plain nuts. It shows the level of absurdity that has become acceptable.

    >Or far too often, they don’t even read a summary at all, and instead vote based on what a lobbyist, or a colleague or a party leader tells them to do.<

    To go a step further, it is at times lobbyists and/or their associates (lawyers) who support the legislation (with hand firmly in cookie jar) who actually WRITE the legislation.

    I’m about to puke just thinking about it.

    Good post Dave.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>And how, pray tell, will you verify that they have read all the bills?< <

    Perhaps a written test would do the job, or initialing every page, or just a sworn oath.

    >>I think that in terms of actual legislative process this is ridiculous…Requiring everyone to read a 1200 page omnibus bill before voting on it will accomplish nothing and will not be enforced.< <

    The idea is really just to make them think about how ponderous and unnecessary the legislation they are signing off on is. If they can't be bothered to read it, how much is it really worth as law?

    >> How about we propose a resolution instead? It can go like this:

    Resolved: that the United States Congress shall faithfully perform it’s duty.<<

    I’m pretty sure they swear an oath to that effect when they take office. That doesn’t seem to be getting any results, so maybe something more extreme like this proposal is the answer.

    Dave

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Perhaps a written test would do the job, or initialing every page, or just a sworn oath.

    The written tests would probably be so easy they’d be a joke. Sworn oaths mean nothing to most of these people. The only answer is pen and paper. Forget the initials, make them sign their full name to each and every page.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Wait, how about we make them copy each bill over by hand rather than using xerox machines, and each of them has to show his handwritten copy to a handwriting expert for verification?

    Dave

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Works for me. Make it hurt.