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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Read the Bills!

DownsizeDC is on another great, historic campaign, this time to pass legislation that will force politicians to read the bills they vote on. It's common sense.

If you read that a little fast, you might have missed it: Bureaucrats do not read the laws they pass! Most bills are literally thousands(!) of pages long, packed to the hilt with pork and special interest favors. The legislation will require the politicians to listen to a reading of every single word of a bill before being able to vote on it. Additionally, it will establish a mandatory waiting period of seven or more days between the reading of the bill and the time it is voted on so that the public will have the opportunity to make their opinions known in Washington. Congress and lobbyists will hate this plan, but the general public will love it.

This comes from the direct mailing I received today:

Congress passed the Patriot Act without reading it. They made it the law of the land before a single copy of the bill was printed.

The recently passed National Intelligence Reform Act was 3,364 pages long. Two copies of the bill were made available two hours before the vote.

The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2004 was 3,200 pages long. Congress didn't read that one either. Page 1,112 of that bill empowered appropriations committee chairmen or their "agents" to examine individual tax returns, including potentially yours.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told "Face the Nation" he had no earthly idea how the provision got there. He blamed Representative James Istook for it, but Istook denied responsibility, saying, "I didn't write it, I didin't approve it, I wasn't even consulted..."

This is par for the course. Pork, favors, and special powers are dropped into bills at the last moment, In secret and behind closed doors. They become the law of the land without debate, because Congress doesn't read the laws it passes!

Ignorance of the law is no excuse for you and me, but it's standard operating procedure for Congress.

We propose to draft, promote, and pass a simple law dictating that:
House and Senate members must physically sit to hear a complete reading of every word of every bill before they can vote on it, and any member not in attendance to hear every word of a particular bill will be ineligible to vote on that measure.

Strom ThurmondIt's a simple idea, but the effect would be revolutionary. Can you imagine, the entire house and senate listening to thousands of pages of mind-numbing legalese, aging Senators asking for "potty-breaks" so as not to miss a single word?

It's fun to visualize, but it would never happen. Instead, Congress would have to change its behavior to preserve its own sanity. Legislation would become much shorter so the readings could be accomplished in one or two sittings. New laws would become easier to understand, and shorter bills would probably mean each new law would be restricted to one subject, instead of the grab-bag bills we have today.

These changes would have further profound outcomes. Government growth would slow because the legislative process would take longer. Secret provisions could no longer be inserted at the last minute. Congress would be less able to pass bad proposals by combining them with popular measures.

All of this is very powerful. But we want to propse one thing more. We want to rob Congressional leaders of one of their most powerful tools for avoiding public scrutiny.

Congressional leaders rarely give much advance notice of when they plan to hold votes on controversial measures. They like to schedule surprise votes before public opposition can organize.

So we are also proposing a requirement for a waiting period, and a public notification period, to give groups like DownsizeDC time to respond. Once Congress has heard a bill read it must wait 7-days before it can vote, and must also give the public 7-days advance notice of exactly when the vote will be held.

This one simple law, with its few simple provisions, would change American government overnight. It would slow government growth, stymie special interests who exploit the current system to gain preferential treatment, and give the small government movement a fighting chance.

Nearly every person in America will support this bill. The politicians will have no choice but to vote for it. If the possibilities of enacting such a law excite you as much as they do me, please contact your representatives and let them know or donate to the DownsizeDC campaign.

Make Congress read the law they pass!


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