No Legislation without Representation!by Stephen Littau
Have you ever seen a congressman being cornered by an angry constituent who asks why he or she voted for a particular bill? How many times have you heard a congressperson in this situation explain that he or she was unaware of a certain provision in a bill he or she supported? Is it possible that the congressperson did not read the bill before casting his or her vote?
Though I believe Michael Moore to be a lying Socialist propagandist, in one scene in his Fahrenheit 9/11 he made a great point (even a broken clock is right twice a day). Moore was driving an ice cream truck around the D.C. mall reading the U.S.A Patriot Act over a loudspeaker. The point he was trying to make was that almost no one in the congress had taken the time to read the bill and were likely hearing the contents of the bill for the first time. Regardless of how one feels about the U.S.A Patriot Act, is it not a little unsettling that our representatives in congress voted on a bill without first reading it?
The fact that most of the representatives failed to read the U.S.A Patriot Act is hardly unusual. Judging by the size of some of these bills, some which rival the thickness of The Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, itâ€™s no wonder why most legislators only read a summary of the billâ€™s main points (if that). Because there are so many cumbersome bills in various stages of the legislative process at any given time, it is not unusual for a representativeâ€™s constituents to be better informed than he or she is on a particular bill. As a result, the people of this country are in many respects, unrepresented in congress.
Unlike most problems, this solution seems quite obvious: require every congressperson to read a bill in its entirety before casting a vote. Believe it or not, such a bill has been proposed. An organization dedicated to limited government causes by the name of Downsize D.C. is behind a bill called the â€œRead the Bills Actâ€ (RTBA). The organization believes the bill will result in smaller bills, more open and honest debate, slow the growth of government, and would end the practice known as â€œlogrollingâ€ (sneaking in unpopular proposals into an otherwise popular bill).
The RTBA would require every bill with every amendment to be read aloud before both the House and the Senate. Each congressperson would be required to sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury stating that he or she has had either read the entire bill or had the entire bill read to him or her before casting a vote. Any bills with sunset provisions which are up for renewal would also be subject to the above provisions of the RTBA. Additionally (a provision that I particularly like) each bill would be required to be posted on the internet seven days before the vote and congress would be required to inform the public of the date of the vote. Any bill that fails to conform to these rules would be considered null and void and would be grounds to challenge the law in court, therefore; congress could not waive the requirements under the RTBA.
So far, I only see one problem with the RTBA: the clerk from each house would read the bill. Arizona has a RTBA (of sorts) where the bill is read by a speed reader. The person reading the bill reads it too fast for most people to understand (much like the disclaimers at the end of some radio ads). What would stop the House and the Senate from using a similar practice? I would suggest that instead of having the clerks read the bills, either the billâ€™s sponsors, or the leaders in each legislative body (Speaker of the House in the House; the Vice President in the Senate) should read the bills.
Requiring our legislators to do their jobs (read their own bills) should not be too much to ask. No more legislation without representation!