Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Read The Bills Act!

Today I get to focus completely on the RTBA. This acronym actually reminds me of RTFM (Read The Fine Manual), which presents itself in technical circles, especially open source. RTBA is the Read The Bills Act, which, if passed, would require all legislation to be read aloud in Congress with a quorum present. We do not elect, nor pay for people to go to Washington and shirk their legislative responsibilities. If there is a person in Washington who believes that this act would place too much burden upon them, then I feel that should be a pleading case for us to remove them from office post-haste. Congress is already in session on such a light schedule (compared to the 40 hour work weeks that are a minimum for the majority of Americans), that actually requiring them to read, understand, and debate the legislation that they vote to pass doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

This matter is significant enough to me that I have joined the Read The Bills Act Coalition (as you can see at the bottom of my sidebar). I am also fortunate enough to have been mentioned in todays Dispatch. Welcome to anyone that decided to follow that link. I encourage everyone to put pressure on their congresspeople to hold themselves accountable and buck the common wisdom that politicians aren't interested in honesty, accountability, and transparency.

Here's the Dispatch for June 17th (Intellectual Splatter got linked!) --

SUBJECT: Is the "Read the Bills Act" Practical?

As we noted in our June 5 Dispatch, the "Climate Security Act" was actually read in the Senate chamber -- 500+ pages in ten hours. Also, on one April day, the Florida House of Representatives had 398 pages pages of legislation read aloud.

Both times, the minority party insisted the bills be read as a form of protest. But there's something revealing here about the practicality of the "Read the Bills Act" (RTBA).

Imagine if RTBA was in force, and stipulate the following . . .
  • It normally takes one hour to read a forty-page bill.
  • Each member of Congress has a copy of the bill, a high-lighter, a pen, and a notebook to jot down their questions and objections.
  • And let's also grant four hours for debate and votes on amendments for every one hour of reading. That's five hours to finalize a forty-page bill.
This would leave plenty of time for meetings, final votes on bills from the previous week, and other business. That evening, Congressional clerks could post the bill on the Internet. Interested citizens could read it and contact their representatives with feedback. Seven days later, Congress could vote.

Assuming Congress meets for 200 days a year, the above scenario would allow them to pass 8,000 pages of legislation quite easily.

Keep in mind, we at Downsize DC don't want Congress to pass this much legislation. But, contrary to what some in Congress claim, they could still pass a lot of laws under the "Read the Bills Act." Indeed, the changes to the process would be all for the better . . .

  • There would be increased pressure on Congressional committees to write short, understandable bills. For instance, large Cabinet Departments wouldn't need to be funded in one bill; separate agencies could be funded in separate bills
  • Many bills are uncontroversial and wouldn't need much debate; even so, reading them aloud would allow Congress to spot errors
  • Peer pressure would limit the addition of amendments on unrelated subjects
  • Members of Congress (and the public) would have the chance to expose and remove wasteful and unwanted earmarks
  • And the same could be done with other hidden, dangerous, and harmful provisions
  • Urgent, high-priority bills would come first
Please tell your Representative and Senators to introduce the Read the Bills Act.

In your personal comments, tell them that the RTBA gives Congress plenty of time to pass needed legislation -- perhaps as much as 8,000 pages a year, plus the bills would be simpler, cleaner, and better than they are now. You send your message here.

In addition, we invite you to help spread the word about RTBA by joining the "Read the Bills Act Coalition." You help spread the word about the RTBA, and we'll spread the word about you, linking to your site on our blog. Details are here.

This week, we welcome four new members to the Coalition.

Intellectual Splatter
Debt Sucks
Call of God
Spotlight Radio

Over the past two weeks the House passed 35 bills totaling 503 pages, and the Senate passed 7 bills amounting to 1863 pages. A list of their bills, and their length, can be found in the blog version of this Dispatch.

Here's the text of my note to Senator Bond, Senator McCaskill, and Representative Blunt --

Congress needs to start reading the laws it passes. Please introduce DownsizeDC.org's "Read the Bills Act." I know you have the power to introduce this legislation on your own, without waiting for anyone else. I urge you to do so. This is a much-needed, common sense reform. I can see no justification for not introducing it. I'm telling my friends about it, and I look forward to hearing that you've introduced it. You can find the text of the legislation here: http://www.downsizedc.org/rtba_legislation.shtml

My personal comment to you:

As a member of the Read the Bills Act Coalition, I urge you to consider this legislation on its merits of accountability, transparency, and honesty. As a member of Congress, you should be more than willing to bring these principles to bear upon the legislation that you participate in passing. You should not be willing to vote for bills that you have not read, nor should you be willing to vote for bills that have not been available to be read by the public. This is a direct non-partisan call for you to stand for clean policies that encourage citizen participation. Please support the Read The Bills Act today.

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