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Read the Damned Bill Amendment: A (Truly) Modest Proposal for Good Government

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The U.S. Congress just passed President Obama's trillion-ish dollar "stimulus" package. The more the public heard about the bill, the less they seemed to like it, so the Democrats rammed that puppy through as quickly as possible with as little time as they could manage for the public to digest it. They only released the final text of the bill one day before the vote.

But the damned thing's over 1,000 pages. It's not just that there was not sufficient time to debate or consider the bill. As Representative Tom Price (R-Georgia) put it succinctly, "it is physically impossible for any member [of Congress] to have read this bill."

I find it difficult to believe that even a good liberal honestly thinks this is an acceptable way of doing business. Even if you think that deficit stimulus spending is a good idea for our economy — as if the years of Bush deficits don't disprove that idea — surely you can't think it a good idea to commit to a trillion dollars of spending before anyone has even read the bill.

Here's what I would consider to be a truly (i.e. not facetious or satirically) modest proposal to ever so gently insert some small and simple measure of sanity back into our legislative process; this seems important enough to merit a constitutional amendment. Some smart lawyer might improve upon my layman's language, but how about something real simple like:

It shall be the inviolable right of any member of the Senate or House of Representatives to have the full text of any bill read aloud on the floor of Congress before a final vote for passage.

Obviously this would play somewhat into the hands of right-wing types with something like this bill, but that's only because the process is so severely out of control. If you think the government should drop one septillion dollars into subsidizing electric cars/glorified golf carts, that's fine. I think we just did that, but who knows? No one has read the thing.

That doesn't even require Congress to let a particular representative do the reading, with the opportunity to r-e-a-d r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Nancy Pelosi could hire the most quick-dictioned auctioneer to slam through it at top speed. In the case of this "stimulus" bill though, she'd probably have to bring in a few of them to take shifts.

Most likely a monstrosity like this "stimulus" bill couldn't survive such an ordeal. By a couple of hours into the reading, C-Span viewers would be calling their people. By the time a physical reading could be accomplished across even several non-stop days, the lynch mobs would be showing up to tar and feather Reid and Pelosi and ride Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter out of town on a rail.

But that would apply to right wing legislation as well. We might have had a substantially different and certainly better-considered outcome if we had slowed down enough to have the proposed Patriot Act actually read publicly.

Now, if the country is under a physical attack, the Commander-in-Chief can have bombers in the air and boots on the ground right away without any waiting. But Congress surely doesn't have any business so urgent that they should be passing legislation without anyone amongst their own membership having at least a minimal opportunity to actually read it, or have it read to the American public who are going to be paying for it.

Is that too much to ask?

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  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet

    In the midst of all the tension here lately, a comedy piece is just what was needed Al-thanks!

    By the way 700 Billion is not Trilionish, except in your flawed reality.

  • Clavos

    Um, actually, it’s $789 billion, Jet.

    You round off like my wife:

    “Look! This is car is only $35,000,” she says, indicating a sticker that reads $35,999.

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet

    Nice deflection but even 789 Billion is not trillionish.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    Al,

    I agree, for the most part. Recent evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, however, I suspect that most Honorable Members do know how to read, some of them without excessive lip movement. Those who aren’t up to such a task probably have assistants who are.

    I would be very happy if a reading break could be mandated — say fifteen minutes per page — for the Honorable Members to try to read for themselves and to understand what they are being asked to vote on. For a one thousand and seventy-one page monstrosity, that would amount to 10,605 minutes or 267.75 hours or just 22.31 twelve hour days.

    Put another way, for the “Stimulus” package of $760 billion or so, that would just be $47,307,000.00 and change per minute (only $2,838,000,000.00 and change per hour) of reading and perhaps even understanding.*

    Although more modest than your proposal, I think this may be an improvement. An added benefit is that it would encourage at least a modicum of self reliance on the part of the Honorable Members.

    Dan(Miller)

    *Yes, I did check the arithmetic. I double and triple checked, because I found the numbers incredible. Scary though the numbers may be, my spreadsheet is allegedly infallible.

  • Clavos

    How can you keep saying “Honorable Members” with such a straight face, Dan(Miller)?

  • Clavos

    Besides, it sounds like Victorian-era Chinese porn.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    Clav,

    Fortunately, no one can see my face when I type this stuff except the pups (my wife is now driving back from Boquete) and they don’t care. Besides, I do think of them as “Horrible” “Honorable,” even Barley Barney Frank.

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    As to whether their members are honorable, that is something upon which reasonable men (and women) could easily disagree. I wouldn’t touch that with a six foot pole.

    Thinking about it, however, perhaps the entire “stimulus” package has some hitherto unexplored elements of Chinese porn.

    Dan(Miller)

  • Clavos

    Sorry for my delay in responding, my guffaws freaked out the cat, and I had to dig her claws out, one by one, from the ceiling stucco…

    There is a pornographic je ne sais quoi about the very concept of “stimulus.”

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet

    So, what is being presumed is that only Democrats have multiple staff to divide and read legislation and summarize it for them in a timely manner-as I said before the bailout bill is the same basically as it was three weeks ago except for a few ass kisses for the whining Republicans.

    Republicans (and their pets?) do all their own reading.

    That explains a lot of the legislation during the Bush years.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Jet, thank you. But besides the idea of rounding for rhetoric’s sake, this is deficit spending for which we will be paying buttloads of interest. It will most certainly end up costing well over a trillion dollars by the time you consider that. When I describe it as a trillion dollar bill, I was really rounding down.

    And that’s assuming that the spending authorized by the provisions of the bill doesn’t turn out to be a big bunch more than the $789 they’re saying publicly. Not like a government program would somehow come out costing twice what they said it would when they passed it without anybody getting to actually read it.

    Dan, I figure my proposal is more modest than yours. Yours would in this case suggest a requirement of nearly a month – very modest and reasonable to consider such a gargantuan bill and sum of money.

    But I’m figuring that with round the clock shifts of speed readers, they could at least perfunctorily read it into the public record (and C-Span cameras) in perhaps as little as three or four days. But maybe your spreadsheet could tell us something different.

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet

    As for sneaking things into legislative bills, we’ve all safely forgotten how Bush had his GOP cronies sneak mysterious immunity from being prosecuted for war crimes into their’s right?

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet

    Of course Al, and the Iraq war only ran us $29.95 and sales tax right?

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Have fun kiddies – substituting all those bad imaginary dollars for good imaginary dollars. Can’t wait till the real liberals Obama worshippers on this site start seriously praying to their various idols for “hope and change” (especially some pocket change) they can really believe in….

    Man! Only $769 billion is in stimulation stimulus! It’s enough to make a grown man masturbate drool with jealousy….

    In the meantime, back out in the Wild Wild Middle East, Netanyahu is proving what a whore he is. Next stop for him – kissing Hillary’s rear end and smelly her pink chaddies!

  • C i n d y

    Leave it to Dan(Miller) to forgo using that standard 10-foot pole.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Well Jet, you seem to have missed my final point of invoking the Patriot Act. Reading the bills would be just as much a requirement for Republican legislation as Democratic. When Sarah Palin is president four years from now trying to clean up Obama’s mess, the bills that she and her congressional cronies are pushing should get exactly the same scrutiny.

    Also, I am not a chauvinistic supporter of President Bush. Nalle and I among others bitched to high heavens about Bush and the Republican funny money – though even that crazy spending pales in comparison to this “stimulus” bill – much less what else they’ve got in the pipeline for even just the next few months.

    Again, I am NOT a Republican. The nearest would be to say that I generally hate them marginally less than Democrats. In fairness though, I want to take this rare opportunity to say that I am actually positively proud of every single Republican in the house – and all but three Republican senators.

    As to the cost of the Iraq war, yes I concede that it has been very expensive. But we’re actually getting something for that. We’ve paid out the nose, but at this point it appears that Bush was in fact pretty much successful in that democracy project.

    For our money and soldiers lives, we have turned one of the worst players in the world into one of the best. Democracy really is taking root there. The insurgency is done, and the holdout Sunnis bought in with the recent elections.

    Things are mostly looking pretty rosey in Iraq at this point, relatively speaking. President Obama should be sending Bush flowers and candy for taking care of that problem. And now other people in the neighborhood have a local Arab model for democracy and progress.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    C i n d y,

    Standards in this glorious time of hope and change must be examined and discarded if no longer appropriate. Ten foot poles are unwieldy and therefore far less usable than shorter ones. Fully hopeful for worthwhile change, I should have said two meter poles. I apologize for my old fashioned notions.

    Dan(Miller)

  • C i n d y

    Dan(Miller),

    The shorter ones are excellent for the ecology as well. I hadn’t thought of that.

    By the way, my sentence should have read, “using the standard 10-foot pole.”

    But, as I like to say, “Close enough for government work.”

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet

    Al: Things are mostly looking pretty rosey in Iraq at this point, relatively speaking.

    One year from now I’ll remind you of that quote.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Jet- Please do.

    And might I remind you now of what your side was saying 12 to 18 months ago or so that Iraq was lost, and Harry Reid wanted to run away in defeat?

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet

    Whatever gets you through the night Al.

  • Arch Conservative

    Apparently faith in a false god named Barry gets Jet through the night as he’s been working double time to defend his incompetence over the past forty eight hours.

    You’re truly going to have your work cut out for you if you intend to keep that pace over the next four years following Barry with a pooper scooper.

    Good luck with that.

  • http://jetssciencepage.blogspot.com/ Jet

    Now you’re preaching to the choir Arch, and half of them aren’t even listening!

  • Arch Conservative

    That’s probably because they figure any comment submitted by myself or by one of them is going to be summarily followed up by ten of your own barely readable inane raves and it’s just not worth their time.

    While they may have tired of it I imagine the entertainment value of you going crazy every time someone offers even the slightest criticism of Barry will not soon be lost on me.

    He’s such a pud that the fodder for such criticism will never stop.

    You hear that Jet…………that’s the sound of the knives being sharpened.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Now Arch, play nice. [I do so relish the opportunity to play good cop.]

  • Cannonshop

    The idea sounds kinda reasonable to ME-I just relish the idea of someone insisting on reading the U.S.Tax Code revisions from next year’s budget-it’d wind up being sometime in 2012 before they finished.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Good. That’d keep the bastards busy for a couple of years – and that much less time they could spend f-ing up everything else. Or perhaps the insanity of hearing such a monstrosity read aloud might cause them to consider actually reforming the tax code to something that us serfs could actually read and follow.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Al’s idea:

    “It shall be the inviolable right of any member of the Senate or House of Representatives to have the full text of any bill read aloud on the floor of Congress before a final vote for passage.”

    Isn’t that already the inviolable right of any Senator? Something called… let’s see now, there was a lot of discussion of it right around election time… oh, what was it now? Tip of my tongue…

    Ah, that’s right! The filibuster.

    Whatever happened to that?

    Or are the GOP senators saving it for a really special occasion?

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    No Doc- The filibuster isn’t at all the same thing. I’m not even saying that they should be able to block the bill from a vote – just that they should be able to insist on reading the bill first. If the bill is so big that reading it would look like a filibuster, then maybe that’s a good sign that something’s bad wrong.

    Plus you shouldn’t have to have 41 senators to get a bill read. Plus, this includes the house, not just the senate.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Perhaps for reading purposes they should divide the bill up evenly among the Senate. Then each Senator would only have about 10 pages to read, and could report back to the others about what was in the bit he or she read.

    Or perhaps to keep Congress out of mischief there could just be one huge bill that encompasses everything that might conceivably need to be legislated on. They could all spend two years reading it, and then vote on the whole thing at the end of the session.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    The entire discussion is farcical, because it absolutely misses the crucial point. There is no need for our elected representatives to know what they are doing, and more often than not they don’t. That is only half a good thing, because many of them believe that they know what they are doing. Fortunately, there is a simple cure.

    I propose that, as the United States at long last joins the greater world community, all legislation be written and discussed exclusively in Esperanto. Esperanto should become the official language of the United States, and all Government business should be conducted in it, exclusively. It is the “most widely spoken constructed international auxiliary language in the world,” a ranking based on the fact that it

    has had continuous usage by a community estimated at between 100,000 and 2 million speakers for over a century, and approximately one thousand native speakers.

    What more could one possibly want? English is a dying language. It has been tortured more than enough, and the time has come to euthanize and bury it unceremoniously.

    Now is the time of hoped for change, and Esperanto is the key.

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Doc- I would not be so presumptuous as to assume that congressmen can read. Not being able to read would certainly go a long ways toward explaining some of the crapola they pass.

    No, reading 1000+ pages would be to much to ask. Robert Byrd among others would probably fall out with a heart attack. Spend a little more taxpayer money and get in some professionals. Maybe they could splurge and get the voiceover guy who did the Geico commercial.

    And would you really want to hear, say, Barney Frank try to read even 10 pages of text?

  • Cindy

    I say we replace all the members of Congress with monkeys. Since no one is reading this stuff anyway we may as well save some money.

    Hey Dave, I like your Republic, it’s working out really well!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Yes, Cindy, but if we elect an infinite number of monkeys to Congress, eventually they will read the bill. Unfortunately, they will make the bill even longer and more impenetrable by inserting clauses of their own which prohibit the brothers of presidents from becoming president themselves in the event of their sibling’s untimely death; and, for some unfathomable reason, provide for the summary committal to a mental institution of any secret service agent reporting ghosts on the White House roof.

  • Hope and Change?

    We already have thousands of monkeys working in all levels of our goverment….Just think about the last time you went to your local city hall, motor vehicles, HUD office, tax dept, etc….

    They are not a very intelligent bunch of people! And most look…. well…. you know… a little slow!

  • Cindy

    Dr.D,

    That is good news. It sounds almost as sensible as some of the legislation that is written now.