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