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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/10/19

Reading Is Fundamental. Congress Should Try It.

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As the US House of Representatives took up the Affordable Care Act, aka "ObamaCare," in 2010, then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) famously told her fellow members of Congress "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."

The 900-plus page bill (which eventually sprouted thousands of pages of implementing rules and regulations) had been posted to the web only days before, printing and distribution of hard copies was taking time, and some members felt that its content bore careful consideration and discussion before a vote.

They ended up passing it anyway, but they were right to worry. Since the ACA became law, its provisions have created considerable confusion and debate in the public square, among regulators, and in the courts.

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Is it really too much to ask of US Representatives and US Senators that they know what they're voting on before they vote? Apparently so, and it's easy to see why.

Legislation that arrives before Congress these days isn't even really written by members of Congress. It's written by staffs of lawyers and "experts," then its details are thrashed out between teams from those staffs.

By the time a bill actually comes to a vote, it's often long, confusing, and full of devilish details that any given member might vote against if he or she noticed them. They count on their staffs (and lobbyists who influenced the legislation) to notice those details for them. Congress is effectively a 535-headed rubber stamp, albeit one of mixed "yeas" and "nays."

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It shouldn't be that way. It doesn't have to be that way. In 2006, Downsize DC proposed the Read The Bills Act. It's about 3,000 words long, but its core provision requires that "before final passage of any bill (other than a private bill) or resolution, the full verbatim reading of the text to each house of Congress."

US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) sponsored the Read The Bills Act in 2012. It didn't pass. It should have.

Harvey Silverglate points out in his book Three Felonies a Day that "[e]ven the most intelligent and informed citizen (including lawyers and judges, for that matter) cannot predict with any reasonable assurance whether a wide range of seemingly ordinary activities might be regarded by federal prosecutors as felonies."

We have way too many laws. Those laws are too long and at turns too vague and too detailed, depending on whether vagueness or detail better facilitate the arbitrary exercise of government power.

If Congress can't be bothered to even know what's in the laws it passes, why should the rest of us be bothered to understand and follow those laws?

It's time to pass, and follow, the Read The Bills Act.

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Thomas Knapp Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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3 people are discussing this page, with 5 comments  Post Comment


Janet Supriano

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To answer the question in your penultimate paragraph, Because if we don't, we can get our heads bashed in.

How do you NOT vote for stupid, when stupid is all that's available? Does anybody here think Pelosi or McConnell are intelligent? Why are they still there? Insanity reigns.

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 10, 2019 at 4:59:32 PM

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Vernon Huffman

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Unfortunately, reading bills doesn't require anybody to listen. The text of each bill is public information and can be read by any person with the will to do so. Please allow me to suggest a better solution, mandatory sunset clauses. Ideally this would involve a Constitutional Amendment, but it could just be a rules change. No law should be allowed to stand for more than 50 years. Each generation should have the opportunity to rewrite all law. If nothing else, this change would keep the legislature busy rewriting existing laws, rather than layering more on top.

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 10, 2019 at 6:31:19 PM

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Janet Supriano

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I really like the mandatory sunset clause proposal. Makes perfect sense on several levels...like keeping the little overpaid munchkins busy and giving the future a flying chance. Re: reading the bills when they are proposed: By the time you read and digest some of them, they're already passed or killed. LOL Additionally, 'they' don't care a whit about our thumbs up or down on just about anything.

I think this has been put out there before, but I also suggest using 'legalese' only when absolutedly necessary. What I mean is explaining the law in plainer (not stupid) language.

The Federal Regulations do a fair job, but who the heck is going to read the Law plus the Regs? :)

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 10, 2019 at 7:26:03 PM

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Daniel Geery

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Frasier Crane is my all-time favorite comedy series, in spite of my pretty much not watching tv. Buying the whole eleven years on CD was the best present I ever got for anyone, in this case my wife and step-daughter, who introduced me to it.

Here is the script from a scene on reading, wish I had the video, but you can at least read Roz's response on reading, when hassled by Frasier on the issue (second scene): click here

A "disease" that many in the White House evidently never caught...

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 10, 2019 at 6:55:22 PM

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The sarcasm on Frasier was THE best! Never got thru an episode without a few real chuckles.

Submitted on Saturday, Aug 10, 2019 at 7:27:50 PM

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