The U.S. Senate should pass the “Read the Bills Act.”
This Act was written in 2006 by Downside DC, which is a non-profit focused on decreasing the size of the federal government. The Act has since been sponsored and proposed in the U.S. Senate by Senator Rand Paul.
This Act would require legislators who want to vote YES on a bill to sign an affidavit swearing to have read or heard read the entire bill. Every bill would also be required to be read aloud before a quorum in both chambers.
In addition, this Act would require legislation to be publicly posted at least 7 days before it can be voted on in order to give legislators and the American public more time to read and discuss it. Light is the greatest disinfectant.
This Act is needed now more than ever because every year the size of bills are getting longer and longer while our legislators are given less and less time to read it.
The Dodd-Frank bill was 1,800 pages.
The Affordable Care Act was 2,500 pages.
The 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act was 2,232 pages.
This has culminated into the most outrageous example where on December 21st 2020, the 5,593 page Cornibus bill, the longest bill ever passed by Congress, was introduced just hours before Representatives and Senators were to vote on it.
You’d think the fact none of our elected representatives read a bill that costs more than two Iraq Wars would’ve doomed it to failure, but nope! The exact opposite happened! In our hyper-partisan era, it was able to get broad bipartisan support.
It got broad bipartisan support because it was negotiated and agreed to by the Democratic Leadership via Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schemer and the Republican Leadership via Mitch McConnell and the Trump Administration. Unlike Nancy Pelosi who was able to make time from the hair salon to be directly involved in negotiations, the author of the Art of the Deal wasn’t able to make time from the golf course to negotiate the most consequential piece of legislation of his administration. He had appointed his Treasury Secretary to be his lead negotiator. It’s a well-known fact that Trump is often kept away from serious negotiations because he’s liable to give away major concessions in an attempt to get his name on something. Anything!
It was then only AFTER the bill was passed in the House and Senate that Social Media Influencer Donald Trump decided to complain on Twitter before taking off to Mar-A-Lago for a nice Christmas vacation (many of the budget items that Trump complained about Trump’s lead negotiators put in there!). From afar, at the behest of his base, Trump begged McConnell to remove the pork and increase the stimulus check from $600 to $2,000, but McConnell used Trump’s ADHD tweets to package Trump’s requests in such a way that would doom the $2,000 stimulus check to failure by simply tying it to other measures (“poison pills”) that Democrats would never vote for, such as repealing Section 230. Unsurprisingly, despite Trump’s tough tweeting, he capitulated to Mitch McConnell by signing the bill.
The only senators to vote against the Cornibus were 6 GOP Senators: Marsha Blackburn, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, Rick Scott, and Rand Paul.
But ultimately what party is in power isn’t as important to the larger point here, which is that under Republican and Democratic administrations bills have been getting longer and longer with a shorter and shorter time frame to read it. The trend is accelerating because it’s easier to pass BIG unread bills. Here’s why…
Legislators are okay with voting for a behemoth bill so long as they get some of the bacon, i.e. it contains some money for their state, district, and/or donors. They’re also okay with voting for it if their party leadership is voting for it, i.e. the ol’ if your friend jumped off a bridge would you? U.S. Senators wouldn’t just jump off the bridge, but they’d finance it.
On a personal level, when I was studying political science at university I was in a Model Congress class where each student was given a politician to play for the semester. I was given Justin Amash. I did two smart things (if I can say so myself). First, based on the extent of Justin Amash’s independent views and the fact our Model Congress was controlled by Democrats I was the only person in the class of 100 students to leave my party by declaring myself an independent (this was about 6 years before the real Justin Amash would make national news by declaring himself an independent). Secondly, in exchange for leaving the Republican party, the Democratic leadership promised to bring one of my bipartisan bills to a vote. I gave my bill to the Speaker of the House a few hours before class hoping that he wouldn’t read it. He didn’t. And so the infrastructure bill that virtually all the Democrats and Republicans voted for also contained a hidden tax cut inside. Is our real congress any different? Unfortunately, no. The older I get the more I realize there are no adults in the room.
The only difference is that in our real congress, the bill would’ve been much larger and contained many more tax breaks and “subsidies,” i.e. massive cash giveaways to a politician’s favorite corporations, organizations, and countries.
Another reason big unread bills are easier to pass is because…
2. Shifts Responsibility.
With a big bill, politicians can avoid responsibility for the bad parts by shifting attention to the good parts.
“Senator Soso, how could you vote for a bill that includes X?”
“Jim, I don’t like X, but I had to vote the bill to get Z!”
Don’t get me wrong I believe in compromise, but it becomes absurd when a Senator’s true logic flows like, “I had to vote for
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXY^30 in order to get Z!”
The final reason it’s easier to pass big unread bills is because…
3. One > Two
1 mega bill is easier to pass than 100 smaller bills. 1 bill is the bare minimum needed to avoid a government shutdown, and so the leadership rams everything it wants into it and then tells everyone that if they don’t support it then a government shutdown would be their fault!
In conclusion, that’s why these big unread bills are becoming more common and if left unchecked they’ll eventually destroy our American democratic republic by shifting more and more power away from our elected representatives to special interest groups and unelected courts and unelected bureaucrats.
Many on the left incorrectly believe getting “Big Money Out of Politics” is the answer to reduce the influence of special interests, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that this a fairytale to make American socialism sound sensible. Money has never been nor ever will be out of politics! Period. Reducing the amount of money rich people can donate directly to campaigns would just force political spending underground where it’d increasingly be channeled to influencers, channels, publications, networks, platforms, companies, etc, which due to our 1st Amendment the government cannot, for example, stop someone from giving a trillion dollars to the New York Times or buy the Washington Post or create a new social media platform that arbitrarily applies its rules to one set of opinions. With strict controls on campaign finance, our elected representatives would be forced to obey the owners of media in order to stay competitive since they’d have little of their own funds to get out their message.
The only way to put power back in the hands of the people is to downsize D.C. A government should never be larger than its citizens’ ability to visualize its basic components and functions. Complexity only benefits the rich and powerful who can use information asymmetry to get one over on the American people. Legislation should be concise and at the very least read!
Big unread bills give too much power to unelected courts to interpret and unelected bureaucrats to implement. The more laws on our books the more this benefits those in power because when virtually everything is illegal and virtually everything can be subsidized then the ruling elite can more easily lock up their enemies (if you watch someone long enough they’ll eventually break some law) and reward their friends (confiscating money from the middle class to give to their supporters/donors in the name of the “public good”).
The U.S. constitution is only 4,543 words. Throughout American history, federal legislation was concise and infrequent. This started to change during the Progressive Era, but even the 1913 personal income tax bill was 14 pages and the E.P.A. of 1970 was 4 pages. In order to save our democratic republic, we need to get back to a point where our laws can be easily read and comprehended by school children and politicians alike.
Make Bills Read Again.