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On Conyers' Statement about Unread Bills

I concur with Mark Steyn:

Thousand-page bills, unread and indeed unwritten at the time of passage, are the death of representative government. They also provide a clue as to why, in a country this large, national government should be minimal and constrained. Even if you doubled or trebled the size of the legislature, the Conyers conundrum would still hold: No individual can read these bills and understand what he's voting on. That's why the bulk of these responsibilities should be left to states and subsidiary jurisdictions, which can legislate on such matters at readable length and in comprehensible language.

When I first heard Rep. Conyers make his statement, I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach because we all know Conyers was advocating voting yes on the health care bill in spite of its not being read. In the particular case of health care, we're talking about reworking of one sixth of our economy and Conyers laughs as if he's the sane one for not bothering to read the bill.

Congressman Pence was Greta's show last night talking about the bill, which he had next to him at the time of the interview. It was about 8 inches thick. He said that the bill created, and I'm going based upon memory from the interview last night, 33 additional entitlement programs and massive new bureaucracies to control those entitlement programs. And Conyers scoffed at the idea of reading and understanding what is in that bill before voting on it. Conyers and his fellow non-readers are a disgrace to our republic.

Speaking of our republic, Ed Morrissey links to a video of a soldier explaining to one of Senator McCaskill's aides the meaning of the "general welare" clause of the Constitution based upon the writings of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and so on. It's a highly instructive 1 minute 42 seconds:


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Comments (17)

symbolically, Congress not ... (Below threshold)

symbolically, Congress not reading the bill makes for good TV, but there's less to the substance.

Equate Congressmen with managers. They serve a constituency. They have staff to which they delegate various duties. And to be effective, they need to trust their staff to act appropriately - in this case, to confirm that the contents of the bill are consistent with their boss's priorities. There are some times where the staff pushes their agenda, but those exceptions don't justify condemning the process as a whole.

It's also unreasonable to expect that each of the 435 members of Congress is going to have expertise in each and every area under their purview (in fact, no such person exists, whether in or outside Congress). Again, that's why they have staff and that's why they rely on the input they receive from colleagues they trust.

It's also inconsistent to make this argument. How many conservatives criticized Congress for not reading all of the pages of Bush's tax cut before they voted for it? Or for not looking at all of the intelligence reports on Iraq before voting to ok Bush's ill-fated adventure? That's right, none.

That is the most motivating... (Below threshold)

That is the most motivating thing I've seen all week.

Sorry, Steve, that doesn't ... (Below threshold)

Sorry, Steve, that doesn't wash.

Members of Congress have a duty to understand what is contained in a bill having this sort of profound impact on the American people, I don't care how busy and important they are.

But this bill is such a monster, that not even staff could have read it and understood it completely in the time it's been available. The 1,000 pages are not completely self contained, if they have been read, since they amend other provisions of the code and must be read in context of those provisions.

If we do actually need such a bill, it shouldn't be pushed so quickly. What difference would a couple of months make, unless the real agenda of Pelosi, Dodd, and Obama is that they don't want the American people to really know what the thing does.

iwogisdead: I agree with yo... (Below threshold)

iwogisdead: I agree with you on the substance, Congress should understand the particulars before voting and that something this big shouldn't be rushed.

But I think it is okay that individual Congressmen don't read it themselves but rely on those who have and those who understand it to recommend they vote yea or nay.... just as they do with tax cuts and foreign affairs and pretty much everything else they do.

If you're going to vote for... (Below threshold)

If you're going to vote for something (a law), you'd better damned well understand what it is you're voting for. If it's that complicated, break it down into manageable portions. Unfortunately, politicians - most being lawyers - like to over complicate things. That way they can hide what they don't want you to see. A prime example is the US Tax Code.

"Equate Congressmen with ma... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

"Equate Congressmen with managers."

No, don't.

Congressmen make LAWS. Laws that are enforceable with the full weight of the government, up to and including the use of violence.
These aren't managers of a business who use staff to make decisions which only affect a business which we are free to use or not.
Legally, we have to obey the laws they make whether we like it or not.

The awesome power of making laws should be held to a higher standard than some private manager making business decisions.

It's not too much to ask that lawmakers just read the damn bills before they vote on them.

I'll repeat my comment from... (Below threshold)

I'll repeat my comment from the previous Conyers article -- hopefully more people will read it and act on it.

Make Congress read what they pass -- lobby to make them pass the "Read The Bills Act" at http://www.downsizedc.org/etp/campaigns/27 :

  • Each bill, and every amendment, must be read in its entirety before a quorum in both the House and Senate.

  • Every member of the House and Senate who plans to vote in the affirmative - to vote for tax increases, for spending bills, for the retention or creation of programs, in support of laws and regulations - must sign a sworn affidavit, under penalty of perjury, that he or she has attentively either personally read, or heard read, the complete bill to be voted on.
  • Every old law coming up for renewal under the sunset provisions must also be read according to the same rules that apply to new bills.
  • Every bill to be voted on must be published on the Internet at least 7 days before a vote, and Congress must give public notice of the date when a vote will be held on that bill.
  • Passage of a bill that does not abide by these provisions will render the measure null and void, and establish grounds for the law to be challenged in court.
  • Congress cannot waive these requirements.

The effects of these provisions will be profound . . .

  • Congress will have to slow down. This means the pace of government growth will also slow.

  • Bills will shrink, be less complicated, and contain fewer subjects, so that Congress will be able to endure hearing them read.
  • Fewer bad proposals will be passed due to "log-rolling."
  • No more secret clauses will be inserted into bills at the last moment.
  • Government should shrink as old laws reach their sunset date, and have to be read for the first time before they can be renewed.

A good discussion of the merits and demerits of such a bill is at http://www.downsizedc.org/blog/detailed-criticism-of-the-read-the-bills-act-a-response

Mr Sturm,Thanks for ... (Below threshold)

Mr Sturm,
Thanks for the analogy but it is wrong. I am the manager and my representative in Congress has a job working for me and I expect him to be familiar with what's in the legislation. If he is not then I say 'give it to me and give me time to get through what you wrote'. I might turn to him after a week or two and say 'this is what I am paying you for? If you didn't know what is in this mess, shame on you and shame on you if you helped write this mess. Either way, you're fired.'

Also, any mistakes made during the Bush administration is not a valid excuse for the same mistakes to be made 10-fold in the Obama administration. Remember the 'Change' in 'Hope and Change'?

whats the issue? maybe he's... (Below threshold)

whats the issue? maybe he's illiterate.

"...whats the issue? maybe ... (Below threshold)

"...whats the issue? maybe he's illiterate."

Wave a dollar under his nose. You'll get results. Just ask Nancy.

Illiterate isn't the same a... (Below threshold)

Illiterate isn't the same as innumerate, GarandFan. I've no doubt he can recognize a $100 bill at 100 paces...

Steve says: "It's a... (Below threshold)

Steve says: "It's also unreasonable to expect that each of the 435 members of Congress is going to have expertise in each and every area under their purview (in fact, no such person exists, whether in or outside Congress)."

I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. Too bad the Obama administration doesn't share our disdain for 'philospher kings' who think they are just so much smarter than anyone else that the reins of such diverse fields as automaking, haelth care, finance , schooling, etc etc etc............ should be given solely to them to 'fix'.

What's the big deal? Polic... (Below threshold)

What's the big deal? Policy is made by the courts, anyway, right?

" It's also unreasonable to... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

" It's also unreasonable to expect that each of the 435 members of Congress is going to have expertise in each and every area under their purview.."

Then maybe all those things shouldn't be under their purview. If they have no expertise then maybe they should only be passing very limited, very narrow laws; or better yet, letting the state and local governments handle more issues. Instead we get 1000+ page all-encompassing behemoths.

Congress has gotten too big and encroaches too much into the lives of Americans.

Now they're not even pretending to read what they are enacting? That's a brazen slap in the face to us all.

If we had an honest, non-Ma... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

If we had an honest, non-Marxist press in this country perhaps one of them might think to ask Rep. Conyers: "If you are unable to read the legisltion you vote on, and unable to understand that legislation even if you read it, what qualifies you to be in the House of Representatives?"

If you ran a business and w... (Below threshold)

If you ran a business and were handed a contract and signed it without reading it or having it read and explained, you aren't going to be in business very long. Second what makes any of you think that a congressman or senator had any hand in writing this pile of stinking dog crap? It was written by special interests for special interests.

A LAWMAKER has a responsibility to the people who elected him to read and understand any piece of legislation in front of him and how it will impact his constituents. If they don't then they should be sacked.


I don't understand the prob... (Below threshold)

I don't understand the problem. If the bill is too long to be understood yet, it's too soon to vote on it. If there's no time to read it, the honest man will vote "no" on the grounds that he has no right to support a bill he doesn't understand.

Imagine being asked to sign a contract, but when you say you want to read it first, the shyster you're dealing with says "there's not time, and you wouldn't understand it anyway."






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