Many talking heads in the mainstream media would love to have you believe that we all just want Congress to work together on “bipartisan compromise”, to “get things done” and “pass commonsense legislation”. It sounds counter-productive to me as a small-government guy, and to me this nonsense begs the question: If you like your freedoms, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, is that really what you want? What if it means your representatives are completely failing to read legislation before passing it?
That’s what happened with the Affordable Care Act, and that’s one reason (besides massive invasion into the economy by an inefficient behemoth of a government) that the over-900-page-long monstrosity has been fraught with so many issues since its inception. In 2010, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MONT), one of the chief authors of the healthcare law admitted openly that he had not read the full legislative text:
“I don’t think you want me to waste my time to read every page of the healthcare bill,” Baucus said. ... “You know why? It’s statutory language. … We hire experts.”
Perhaps if anyone had more closely read the legislative text (or the text had been many volumes smaller, and not expansive of government power), the ACA would not currently face losing substantial “illegal” funding that was, it’s argued in King v Burwell, explicitly outlawed in the bill. (but provided to citizens, and taxed for, regardless) Baucus wasn’t the only one who didn’t read the ACA’s full text before its passage – basically no one had – and this isn’t the only bill to be rammed through in this rushed manner, or even the largest. In fact, it’s no secret (any more) that many of the votes cast in Congress are cast without reading the full legislative text of the bill:
Let Freedom Ring, a group that promotes constitutional government and traditional values, has launched a campaign to get all 535 lawmakers in the House and Senate to pledge to not vote on the health care bill (likely to top 1,000 pages) until they have personally read it and the bill has been posted on the Internet for 72 hours.
A week after starting the campaign, Let Freedom Ring has found at least two takers out of 535: Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
“Americans are outraged when they find out members vote on bills they’ve never read,” DeMint said through a spokesman. “Voters deserve to know their elected officials are going through every bill to stop waste, fraud and abuse and ensure bad policy doesn’t become law. Health care is too important an issue to rush through without honest and open debate.”
DeMint quarreled with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the Senate floor in 2007 over releasing a 3,400-page omnibus bill on a Sunday night and calling a vote on a Tuesday.
“This is our chance to at least say no more business as usual,” DeMint said. “We are not going to do business this way, where we pile 3,400-plus pages on a desk and 24 hours later ask senators in this country to vote for it without knowing what’s in it.”
Even the “experts” who were “hired” to write Obamacare have had a few public slip-ups- Johnathan Gruber, often called the “chief architect” of the bill, was caught up in a huge scandal last year when a video surfaced of him describing how the ACA “was written in a tortured way so that the CBO would not score the individual mandate as taxes. … if [they did], the bill dies.” Gruber talked about how “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.” Watch:
Fortunately, there are some concerned citizens and policy-makers who are taking action against passing unread bills. Downsize DC (@DownsizeDC), a non-profit organization dedicated to limiting the size and scope of government to that defined in the Constitution, has crafted legislation called the “Read the Bills Act” (RTBA), among others such as the “One Subject at a Time Act.” The RTBA, if voted into law, would:
- Force Representatives who wish to vote yes to sign a sworn affidavit affirming they have either read the full text of the bill or had it read to them;
- Require Bills to contain in their text the Constitutional Clause(s) granting authority for Congress to enact the legislation within;
- Require Bills which amend current sections of the US Code to cite the original law in the bill, then the amendment, and finally the law as amended; unless the bill strikes an entire section of the US Code;
- Force a Quorum Reading of the bill’s full text aloud in both houses of Congress, as well as post the full text on the Internet days before the bill’s final vote.
According to Downsize DC, this factor – the Quorum reading of the bills – would fundamentally transform the way in which Congress does business. They’d be forced to slow down, and compose smaller and more concise bills which can be more easily understood. Bills which would take many hours for a full reading would likely die, even those which are being reauthorized, so it would effectively “break up” bills into smaller bits and pass or fail each part of a measure on its stand-alone qualities. Bills which could not be read aloud could not be passed successfully, and if they were, the RTBA has an enforcement clause which will effectively allow citizens to nullify the effects of non-complying bills as a defense mechanism in a court of law.
I actually read the full legislative text of the Read the Bills Act (here), and believe it or not: You don’t even have to be a Lawyer to understand the bill (I’m not a lawyer by any measure); it’s written in more or less plain English, so peruse the 14-page legislation if you’re curious.
In November of 2013, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) actually introduced the “Read the Bills Act” as S.1665, alongside two other bills crafted by Downsize DC – The “Write The Laws” Act (S.1663) and the “One Subject at a Time Act” (S.1664), each of which impose other (similar) restrictions on the way Congress may delegate its legislative powers, or the amount of subject matter permitted in one bill. These transformational changes are not backed by Congress (as they would require them to do their Constitutional duties), but at least someone is trying to make a difference on this issue.