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Why “Read The Bill” Is A Waste Of Time

by @ 10:59 am on November 10, 2009. Filed under Congress, Politics

Former Reagan Administration official Bruce Bartlett explains why all these calls for Congressman to “read the bill” — which have even resulted in a so-called Read The Bills Act — is a waste of time:

The 1,990-page length of the health reform bill is once again bringing forth demands that members of Congress be required to read the legislation before voting on it. While a seemingly reasonable demand, it is, in fact, a waste of time.

The reason becomes obvious the moment one actually reads legislative language.

[...]

For these reasons, reading an actual bill is a completely useless exercise for the vast majority of members of Congress and staff. They rely heavily on committee reports that are supposed to accompany all bills coming up for a floor vote. These reports are written by committee staff and are required to faithfully reflect the bill’s intent. They may contain important details, clarifications, data, citations to hearings, and supporting materials, such as a section-by-section analysis, that allow the legislation to be intelligible to non-lawyers and other non-experts.

In addition, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have organizations that review all bills coming up for a vote, summarize them and offer political perspectives. Here, for example, is the House Republican Conference report on the health bill. If one’s party holds the White House, a member may find the Statement of Administration Policy to be important in understanding a bill and how to vote on it. Here is the SAP on the health bill. The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis may also be important. Here is its report on the health bill.

(…)

The point is this discussion is to show that actually reading a bill is not going to tell the average congressman or senator anything useful about it. Making it some sort of requirement for enactment simply wastes time that would be better spent absorbing summaries and analyses that tell members what the legislation is supposed to do.

It’s not reading the bills that matters, it’s understand them and understanding the consequences of their provision that really matters.

Now, one can make the argument that it’s impossible for any Member of Congress to really understand what’s in a 2,000 page bill, and that relying on summary reports from public policy institutes that may have agendas or biases of their own is no way to govern a nation, but that’s another issue entirely.

The length and complexity of modern-day Federal legislation is a direct function of the massive size and scope of the government itself. You can’t shrink one without shrinking the other, and concentrating on phony calls to “Read The Bill” isn’t going to accomplish a thing.

H/T: Alex Knapp

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4 Responses to “Why “Read The Bill” Is A Waste Of Time”

  1. Matt says:

    I agree, I think limiting the length of bills would be a better option. The constitution and bill of rights total up to something like 1800 words. If the entire government can be founded on so few words, maybe bills should be required to be shorter than this?

  2. tfr says:

    > I think limiting the length of bills would be a better option.

    Agreed. The fact that we even need committee reports written by committee staff to explain bills to congressmen so that they can understand them enough to vote, is ridiculous, and an obvious sign of an out-of-control government. The tax code by itself is 44,000 pages. Shall we add 2,000 more for health care?

  3. Let's Be Free says:

    This gainsays the obvious. Any legislation whose import and effect cannot be discerned by its reading is legislation that should not be passed. The reality is that any bill which gets passed will end up meaning whatever Barack Obama, his cronies and Czrs say it should mean. It will be the folks at HHS and the government actuaries who ultimately fill in the blanks who are the true death panels.

  4. Kevin says:

    The length and complexity of modern-day Federal legislation is a direct function of the massive size and scope of the government itself. You can’t shrink one without shrinking the other, and concentrating on phony calls to “Read The Bill” isn’t going to accomplish a thing.

    But it’s always easier to make a phony populist appeal than to take actual concrete steps to accomplish a goal.

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