Congressional legislation, which can consist of hundreds or even thousands of pages of text, is routinely drafted by congressional staff members, special interest groups and/or lobbyists and oftentimes is not even read by the members of congress themselves. Although the people, via the U.S. Constitution, have exclusively given Congress the power to write our laws, many of our representatives have delegated this power to their staff members, government agency bureaucrats, special interest groups and corporate lobbyists who prepare much of the legislation. The danger is that these bureaucrats, special interest groups and lobbyists are not necessarily looking out for the best interest of the American people, but rather for the best interest of whoever is paying them. Could they slip in a paragraph here and a sentence there to promote their own objectives? Absolutely! It would be very easy to do because no one is reading the legislation. Because of the sheer volume of material contained in proposed legislation, individual Members of congress simply do not have the time to read all of the legislation they are voting on. A prime example is the Federal budget that can run hundreds of thousands of pages.
The current system has allowed many pieces of legislation to get through both houses of congress without adequate debate or understanding. For example, very few of the Senators read the recent 790-page proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill (S. 1348) before it was voted on and only a handful of copies of the original USA Patriot Act were available when it was voted on. The longer a piece of legislation is, the less likely it is that our representatives will have the time to read the entire document.
By routinely failing to read what they are voting on, members of congress have given the American people many excessively long, sometimes incomprehensible and burdensome laws. It has allowed unpopular measures, earmarks, pork barrel amendments or hidden provisions for special interests to be attached to very popular legislation that few in Congress would be willing to oppose publicly. This practice is called “log-rolling.” Additions and deletions to legislation can even be made at the last minute. Votes are sometimes held with little debate or public notice and sometimes printed copies of the legislation are not available for legislators to read before they vote.
The sheer length of many of the bills proposed in congress deprives the average American citizen and their elected representatives of the opportunity to thoroughly examine the text of proposed legislation and amendments in detail prior to voting on it.
I support the “READ THE BILLS ACT” as drafted by DownsizeDC.org, or I will support similar legislation that requires elected representatives to do the following before they can bring any legislation to a vote:
- Read every word of every bill before a vote can be held on that bill.
- Read every word of every old law that comes up for renewal under the sunset provisions.
- Publish (including on the internet) every pending bill at least 7 days before a vote is held, to allow time for public comment.
- Be present at the reading of bills and that all discussions relating to the bills be open, and
- All legislators must certify that they have read and understood the bill, including any amendments, before voting on it.
The “Read the Bills Act” would not only eliminate a lot of poor legislation, it would also encourage elected representatives to propose legislation that is brief, understandable and to the point. The openness of the process will help reduce or possibly even eliminate the current practice of adding billions of dollars of non-related pork barrel amendments to “must pass” budget measures and other key legislation.
I also believe that all bills and legislation should address one specific issue only and any proposed amendments to the bill should only address the specific issue at hand. No pork barrel amendments of any kind and no unrelated riders should be attached to any bill.
All votes on bills should be conducted by roll call vote so that the American public will know who voted for or against a particular piece of legislation.