Tell Congress to Read the Bills…

What if Congress read the bills before it passed them? What if Congress, by law – rather than by rule – were required to read the bills? Well, DownsizeDC has proposed just that through their Read the Bills Act (RTBA).

From the Read the Bills Act of 2011 page:

Ignorance of the law is no excuse for citizens. Neither should it be in Congress.

With great power comes great responsibility. The obligations imposed on public servants must always be greater than those imposed on citizens. This is why we need’s “Read the Bills Act” (RTBA).

Representatives have a fiduciary responsibility to read every word of every law they seek to impose on us. RTBA requires that . . .

Any member of Congress wishing to cast an affirmative vote for more spending, greater regulation, or the creation or retention of a program or bureaucracy, must sign an affidavit swearing that he or she has either . . .

  • Read the entire bill, or . . .
  • Heard the entire bill read.

It will always be easy for every member of Congress to hear a full reading of a bill because RTBA requires such a reading before a quorum of each chamber of Congress.This requirement for a quorum reading is by far the most important reform contained in this bill. Here’s why . . .

The quorum reading requirement means that all floor business will halt while a Constitutional quorum is present for a full, literal, word-for-word, in-order, reading of the entire bill. This one simple requirement will change how Congress operates. As it stands now, too many bills . . .

  • Are passed too quickly with too little understanding, debate, and deliberation
  • Are too long, too dense, and contain too many subjects

The quorum reading requirement will fix these problems. It will make Congress . . .

  • Slow down
  • Debate
  • Deliberate
  • And better understand the burdens they seek to impose on the American people

In short, the quorum reading requirement will give Congress a huge incentive to make bills shorter, clearer, and more focused, so that the members of Congress can better endure the fatigue of hearing them read!

No mere rule, or three day waiting period (which the House has already passed) can accomplish any of these things. In addition . . .

RTBA requires that each part of a bill that amends present law must quote the existing law to be amended, and the new section as amended. It will no longer suffice to have something like the following . . .

“Section 415 (21 U.S.C. 350d) is amended in subsection (a)(2), by inserting after the first sentence the following: . . .”

This is yet another feature of RTBA that will make things easier for both Congress and the public.

RTBA also imposes waiting periods . . .

  • After the quorum reading Congress must wait seven (7) days before the final vote.
  • The bill must also be posted online during that period so that the press, the public, and watchdog groups can read the legislation too.
  • The vote must be publicly scheduled on the Internet for a date certain, seven (7) days in advance.

These provisions will end the practice of legislating by surprise, and give citizens the same time for reading and deliberating that Congress has.

Finally, RTBA has several mechanisms to compel compliance. We’ll just note two here . . .

First, RTBA is a law, NOT a mere rule. The evidence is overwhelming that Congress doesn’t obey rules. Enforceable laws are needed instead. This problem of enforcement is also why RTBA permits no exceptions for “emergencies.” “Emergency” has become an accounting term on Capitol Hill — a way to work outside the constraints of current budget law.

Example: The Iraq war has been funded, every single year, from the emergency budget. And the emergency supplemental bill has been noted for its profligate pork-barrel spending and earmarks. Everyone on Capitol Hill understands the purpose of the budget law. The leadership knows they’re violating the spirit of it by passing the emergency supplemental. They do it anyway. This is just one example of why Congress needs to be regulated. And to do that, we need a firm law.

Second, Congressional rules can’t be enforced by the courts. Properly written laws can be. That’s why RTBA contains the following enforcement mechanism . . .

Any law enacted in violation of any provision of RTBA, OSTA, or WTLA can be considered invalid in a court of law. How?

All citizens will have a sufficient defense, when charged in court by presenting evidence that the law they’re accused of violating was passed in violations of RTBA, rendering the law null and void.

No mere rule can be enforced in this way. Only a law can give citizens this kind of protection.

In conclusion . . .

If the citizens Congress supposedly serves must be responsible for obeying and paying for every word of every law Congress enacts, then every member of Congress must be responsible for reading every word of every bill before they vote to pass it.

It’s time for Congress to slow down, deliberate and listen to their constituents. The Read the Bills Act is designed to force Congress to do just that.

If you’re tired of bills that are hundreds or thousands of pages being passed in the dead of night, with no time for you to review or respond to them, then go the the Read the Bills Act page and send a letter to Congress and let them know that you want them to read the bills.