Raise your hand if you read the cromnibus spending bill.
Yeah, me neither.
I would venture to say that about 99.9997 percent of the American people did not read it or even consider reading it. Weighing in at just over 1,600 pages, I cannot say that I blame them.
While Republicans are getting heat over the speed at which this is being pushed through, especially considering the length and complexity of the bill, the passage of huge bills that no one reads is nothing new.
Consider one of the most famous bills of considerable length to pass through both chambers and be voted on – Obamacare. That bill came to a whopping 2,400 pages and was voted on three weeks after being introduced. Few Americans, and arguably few people in Congress actually read the full text of the bill and understood everything within it.
Dodd-Frank comes in at a svelte 850 pages and was voted on within nine days of introduction. No Child Left Behind cracks the 1,000 page mark and was voted on a day after introduction in the House. The stimulus bill in 2009 seems small in comparison, but is still 680 pages and was voted on only two days after being introduced.
I think you get the drift.
The notion that members of Congress are actually reading and comprehending these enormous bills before voting on them is preposterous. Even they admit that it just isn’t realistic to read and understand the complexities and details of such a huge bill in such a short time.
So if the members of Congress, whose job it is to represent the interests of their constituents, are not reading or grasping the details of the bill, then who is in control of our legislative process?
I would argue that it is not the people who read the bill, but those who write it, and they are often a different set of characters.
We elect and pay people to represent us in the federal government. They do the things that we do not have the time or ability to do ourselves, mainly read, draft and pass legislation. We are busy working, keeping our heads above water and trying to make a living and a life for ourselves. Reading through 1,600 pages of federal spending legislation just isn’t in the cards. That’s why we have a representative.
But their failure to do this most basic of duties is the same as relinquishing legislative control to whoever wrote the bill in the first place. Does that person or organization represent us? Who do they answer to? Do we even know who that entity is in many cases?
While the Democrats rail against campaign finance and decry the shadowy spending and donations, they are complicit in this travesty that creates a myriad of shadows throughout the legislative process. Laws are being written in whole or in part by special interest groups who do not answer to election cycles or the American people, but to the big donors who fund them. Those laws, extending into the hundreds if not thousands of pages, contain a level of complexity that is infeasible to grasp within such a short time frame.
Our laws are not being duly checked and vetted by the very people who have been elected and paid handsomely to do so.
Clearly, this must change if we are to have any handle or control over the laws that are voted on and passed that will affect us directly or indirectly.
I propose a simple, but effective solution that will handle this issue without burdening the much, much smaller bills that are far more commonly introduced and voted on. It is called “The Responsible Reading Act” and has only two parts:
- Any bill that is introduced may not be voted on until a minimum of 48 hours has passed from the time of public introduction.
- For any bill longer than 30 pages, at time of public introduction, there shall be an extra hour added to the 48-hour minimum for every page beyond 30.
That’s it. It’s very simple and very effective. This bill would not disrupt the process for the normal bills that pass through Congress and a 48-hour waiting period on any legislation is absolutely fair to require.
Take into account the current spending bill that stretches beyond 1,600 pages and is being rushed through in order to avoid a government “shutdown” before the Christmas break. With my bill in place, Congress would have to wait nearly 65 ½ days before voting on such a huge bill.
Not only would that provide members of Congress and the American public with enough time to read and comb through the contents of the bill, but it would remove this emergency style legislation that is crafted and introduced at the last second in order to prevent some immediate disaster from happening.
Trying to avoid bad things at the last second is a great policy for bull fighters, not for the federal government.
In the case of Obamacare, the bill would have had to sit and wait for 100 full days before anyone could even vote on it. Three months of time to comb through an insanely expansive and complex bill is invaluable. It would have added more honesty, more understanding and more knowledge to the debate surrounding the bill. Could that have made the whole process messier? You’re damn right it would.
Perhaps that messiness and increased scrutiny that comes with time would dissuade members from introducing bills of this length and complexity, which inevitably come with unwieldy and unintended consequences.
The problem of lengthy and complex bills being voted on before being vetted is nothing new and is not the fault of one political party alone. The solution to it, however, is simple enough and should be considered as an antidote to the frustrating and unrepresentative process we see going on right now.
It’s time for some responsible reading in Washington D.C.
For other articles and writings by Darrell, please visit the Milk Crate.
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