James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is the "Read the Bills Act" Practical?

Today's Downsizer-Dispatch . . .


"You are at work, and someone hands you a draft report you are required to sign your name to and pass up the chain of command. What happens to you if you sign it and hand it to the next guy, but after it is implemented you find out that it has obvious errors, or worse includes payment of company funds to someone who has done nothing to deserve it? I'm guessing you get fired and have to think about how to phrase the departure on your resume."
-- Anthony, "the view from my windscreen"

SUBJECT: Is the "Read the Bills Act" Practical?

As we noted in our June 5 Dispatch, the "Climate Security Act" was actually read in the Senate chamber -- 500+ pages in ten hours. Also, on one April day, the Florida House of Representatives had 398 pages pages of legislation read aloud.

Both times, the minority party insisted the bills be read as a form of protest. But there's something revealing here about the practicality of the "Read the Bills Act" (RTBA).

Imagine if RTBA was in force, and stipulate the following . . .

  • It normally takes one hour to read a forty-page bill.
  • Each member of Congress has a copy of the bill, a high-lighter, a pen, and a notebook to jot down their questions and objections.
  • And let's also grant four hours for debate and votes on amendments for every one hour of reading. That's five hours to finalize a forty-page bill.

This would leave plenty of time for meetings, final votes on bills from the previous week, and other business. That evening, Congressional clerks could post the bill on the Internet. Interested citizens could read it and contact their representatives with feedback. Seven days later, Congress could vote.

Assuming Congress meets for 200 days a year, the above scenario would allow them to pass 8,000 pages of legislation quite easily.

Keep in mind, we at Downsize DC don't want Congress to pass this much legislation. But, contrary to what some in Congress claim, they could still pass a lot of laws under the "Read the Bills Act." Indeed, the changes to the process would be all for the better . . .

  • There would be increased pressure on Congressional committees to write short, understandable bills. For instance, large Cabinet Departments wouldn't need to be funded in one bill; separate agencies could be funded in separate bills
  • Many bills are uncontroversial and wouldn't need much debate; even so, reading them aloud would allow Congress to spot errors
  • Peer pressure would limit the addition of amendments on unrelated subjects
  • Members of Congress (and the public) would have the chance to expose and remove wasteful and unwanted earmarks
  • And the same could be done with other hidden, dangerous, and harmful provisions
  • Urgent, high-priority bills would come first

Please tell your Representative and Senators to introduce the Read the Bills Act.

In your personal comments, tell them that the RTBA gives Congress plenty of time to pass needed legislation -- perhaps as much as 8,000 pages a year, plus the bills would be simpler, cleaner, and better than they are now. You send your message here.

In addition, we invite you to help spread the word about RTBA by joining the "Read the Bills Act Coalition." You help spread the word about the RTBA, and we'll spread the word about you, linking to your site on our blog. Details are here.

This week, we welcome four new members to the Coalition.

Intellectual Splatter
Debt Sucks
Call of God
Spotlight Radio

Over the past two weeks the House passed 35 bills totaling 503 pages, and the Senate passed 7 bills amounting to 1863 pages. A list of their bills, and their length, can be found in the blog version of this Dispatch.

NOTE: You can remove this funding section if you forward this message to others, or post it on your blog. You can also comment on this message at our blog.

Thank you for being a DC Downsizer.

James Wilson
Assistant to the President