Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"You Expect Us To READ This??"

That is, in essence, what Rep. John Conyers said as he mocked representatives on the floor insisting bills are actually read before they go up for a vote (H/T to NQ Reader tzada, for the alert). Don't take my word for it, though. Here Representative Conyers is saying so:

"What good is it?" What GOOD IS IT to read the bill???? Are you freakin' kidding me? Well, Rep. Conyers, I'll tell you: I have a bit of a problem with our Congresspeople not bothering to know just what the hell they are voting on when they rush bills through. I think we have seen how that has worked out in terms of the Stimulus Bill, haven't we? Cap and Trade? And now the Health Care Bill? "What good is it," indeed. I am sure you have made your constituents SO proud to have you represent them.

Apparently, other American citizens actually care about "what good is it to read the bill," too, as this piece by Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Kevin Ferris, would indicate, "Back Channels: Imagine: Reading A Bill Before Passing It." See, to ME, this should go without saying. But apparently NOT to the people elected to do the people's business:
In 1776, the rallying cry was, "No taxation without representation."

Today, it could be, "No taxation without totally clueless representation."

That's what Americans got on June 26, when the House voted 219-212 for the "cap-and-tax" energy bill, as the Republicans refer to it. The bill ran more than 1,000 pages, and before members had time to digest that tome, 300 pages of amendments were added after midnight. When Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) started to read the additions, bill cosponsor Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.) objected. He was rebuffed. There are no time limits for comments by House leaders.

"When you file a 300-page amendment at 3:09 a.m., the American people have a right to know what's in this bill," Boehner said.

Whether this bill will lessen greenhouse-gas emissions - as Democrats hope - or kill countless jobs - as Republicans predict - or ever pass the Senate, remains to be seen. But the House vote did raise a question that cuts across party and ideology:

How can lawmakers vote on something so important without a thorough understanding of what's in it?

Are you asking me? If so, my answer is, they should NOT be voting on ANYTHING they have not read thoroughly! Hell to the no, they should not laugh off the idea of READING it!

Of course, there are varying levels of bills. I understand that. So does Ferris:
Not the everyday "We hereby rename this post office in honor of so-and-so" or "We officially declare this Goldfish Month." The big things, like an almost $800 billion stimulus plan, or an energy package that Politico said "would transform the country's economy and industrial landscape."

Actually reading such legislation, as the founders might say, should be self-evident.

But apparently not. So a little nudge is in order, especially with health-care reform looming.

One nudger is Colin Hanna, a former Chester County commissioner and president of the conservative advocacy group Let Freedom Ring. He has begun a campaign (www.pledgetoread.org) that asks members of the House and Senate to promise the following:

"I . . . pledge to my constituents and to the American people that I will not vote to enact any health-care reform package that:

"1) I have not read, personally, in its entirety; and,

"2) Has not been available, in its entirety, to the American people on the Internet for at least 72 hours, so that they can read it too."

I know nothing about this organization, but still, how can you argue with reading the bill??? I might ad, this is FAR from a "conservatives only" issue:
Let Freedom Ring isn't alone. A consortium of liberal and good-government groups is backing readthebill.org, and a libertarian group, DownsizeDC.org, essentially wants the two planks of Hanna's pledge enacted as federal law.

Having been a commissioner, Hanna understands that lawmakers can't read every line of every bill, but he argues that in some cases it's necessary.

"There are certain issues of scope and importance that demand an extra measure of due diligence, including reading the bill in full," he said in an interview. Health care, cap-and-trade, and the stimulus all rise to that level, he says, adding that legislators dismiss this sentiment at their peril.

"There is a rising public demand that bills be read," he says. "And there is a rising public outrage against politicians who dismissively suggest that's just the way Washington works."

I know - you probably think he means John Conyers here. Nope. Someone with even more power:
He is referring to a Politico story about the initial response by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D., Md.) when asked about a pledge: laughter. But then Hoyer backpedaled, saying that of course members, staff, or review boards read bills, or at least "substantial portions."

Hoyer's reaction shows that the priority is not to make informed judgments and improve legislation, Hanna suggests, but to rush through bad laws before anyone can object.

"They want to completely control the entire legislative process and ram it down not only Congress' throat but the American people's throat, and we think that's wrong," Hanna says.

So it would seem. I don't think that is solely a Democratic thing, but for a Party whose very name implies that it cares about DEMOCRACY, it is a bit of a problem, if you ask me. And ISN'T THIS FOR WHAT THESE PEOPLE ARE PAID??? Geezum crow already! I guess if they are willing to give up a good portion of their salaries, that might be more understandable. Or have the work become part-time. Obama is used to that concept - he might actually go for that. Ahem. Naturally, that won't happen anytime soon, so it is up to us:
If Congress hasn't the time or inclination to read the bills, let the public do it. And that's where Part 2 of the pledge comes in - allowing 72 hours for citizens to read legislation online before a vote.

"We have the technology to make complex legislation available for public and media inspection," Hanna says. "We're not being true to the ideals of democracy if we don't take advantage of that technology."

He has a point. Granted, a "read the bill" movement can come off as gimmicky, but given recent votes and the magnitude of the bills, how does one argue against citizen access to legislation? Candidate Obama had promised to post bills online before he signed them into law. He's broken the promise, so let Congress set an even higher standard.

We'll have a better idea tomorrow. On his Web site, Hanna has been tallying the number of pledge supporters. Tomorrow, he plans to reveal the names of those backers - as well as those who rejected or ignored the offer to sign the pledge.

At which time voters will be a little better informed, even if their senators and representatives refuse to be. (Contact Kevin Ferris at kf@phillynews.com, or 215-854-5305.)

Seems to me there are a couple of options here. Either the lawmakers make the bills SHORTER, and only address the issue at hand - and not throw in everything including the kitchen sink. OR they take the time to READ THE DAMN THING. Frankly, I don't think that is too much to ask of them. Come to think of it, that is the very LEAST we can ask of them, don't you think?


deadenders said...

It's a sad state of affairs. You would think with staffs of over 50 people a Congressman could assign parts of a bill to each member and have them give a summery of what is in the bill.

My favorite part of the video was what he said about needing a lawyer...HE'S A LAWYER. Must have been an honorary degree.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Yes, one would think so, deadenders!

Who the hell is writing these bills if the people who are supposed to vote on them can't understand them w/o a bevy of attorneys? That's ridiculous!

LOL abt Conyers' degree - good one!!