The debate about whether members of Congress and senators should read bills has been getting highly literal lately. It’s capped off by Angie Drobnic Holan’s article, “Speed-Reading the Health Care Reform Bill?, on Politifact (a St. Petersburg Times site) this morning.
Faced with a 1,000-or-so-page health care reform proposal, “a person could conquer the bill in seven to 13 hours.”
There you have it! That’s what it takes if you want ‘em to read the bill!
Of course, the “read-the-bill” concept is a stand-in for others:
One is simply having a more deliberative process in Congress. It’s dawning on the American public that bad things happen when Congress operates in haste—the derivatives debacle, for example. Oh, and also, government takeovers. Oh yeah, and spending orgies.
But “read the bill” is also about power.
“Waiting periods … tend to disperse power to people who might otherwise be at the margins of the debate,” reports Holan. “Centrist Democrats in the Senate, for example, have asked for waiting periods after amendments and conference reports.”
It goes beyond that, too. Letting the public read finalized bills before they become law allows the public to second-guess Washington, D.C. and transfers power back home. People want to use the Internet to have more say in governance.
And there is far more knowledge, sense, and brain-power out there in the land than on Capitol Hill (I say as a former legislative staffer). Given a regular process for doing so, the people (and lawyers) faced with implementing proposed federal laws would examine and critique proposals in Congress much more than they do now. This would help improve results, though Members of Congress would surely chafe at being overseen by the lowly public.
Speaking of waiting periods, recall that President Obama promised to post the bills coming out of Congress for five days before he signs them. Let’s take a look at how he’s done with this promise so far:
Still only one of 68 have been posted online for five days before signing. Forty-six of 68 (nearly 68%) have been held at the White House for five days after presentment. There is nothing stopping the president from posting these bills online for the time he promised.
It might be that the folks in the White House don’t want to reveal the trivialities that Congress and the president deal with. Eighteen of the 68 new laws this year (26%) have renamed post offices and courthouses.
Also, five bills have been temporary extensions of existing laws (plus one temporary government funding measure). These are all examples of Congress and the president failing to manage existing government programs and spending. It’s possible that the White House doesn’t want to give exposure to these laws and bring discredit on the federal government generally.
Whatever the case, here’s the list so far of new laws and the president’s adherence to the “Sunlight Before Signing” pledge.