Read the Bills
March 22, 2007 5:56 AM   Subscribe

The folks at DownsizeDC have this crazy idea that the members of Congress should have to read the bills that they vote on. Here is their plan to make it happen.
posted by Who_Am_I (48 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Due diligence? Quality control? Government? Good luck.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:01 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why read it when you know the corporate lobbyist who handed it to you has the American people's best interests at heart?
posted by nofundy at 6:03 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


[This will end non-cynically]
posted by DU at 6:03 AM on March 22, 2007


Impractical, sadly.
posted by The White Hat at 6:08 AM on March 22, 2007


[This will end non-cynically]

Oh, I'm well aware of where this discussion is headed, I'm just hoping that some people can hold off their cynicism long enough to join the petition.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:18 AM on March 22, 2007


Of course it's impractical. If you look at the rest of the site, these are simply anti-government types who want to "drown it in a bathtub". Not that I disagree with knowing what legislation means before it's passed, but that's because I want them to know what they are voting on. These guys just want to make government work even more slowly, as the next cycle in a self-fulfilling prophecy about how government doesn't work.
posted by DU at 6:21 AM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's amusing how their website is full of huge lists of committee members. Big committees: that's the path to efficiency.
posted by smackfu at 6:22 AM on March 22, 2007


Shouldn't this be RTFBA ?

just asking....
posted by HuronBob at 6:23 AM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


This would have the effect of moving a huge amount of regulatory power to the executive branch, where there would be no oversight. It would also prevent congress from dealing with problems in complex ways.

I mean, have these guys even heard of the congressional committee system? Congress divides some of the labor so that they can get more done.
posted by delmoi at 6:25 AM on March 22, 2007


These guys just want to make government work even more slowly

The slower they work, the less they do, and that's probably a GOOD thing.

I think we need a No Congressman Left Behing Act, that tests all of them for proficiency and reading comprehension, and mandates increased performance every year, or their salaries and benefits are cut off.

If it's good enough for the kids, it's good enough for Congress.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:28 AM on March 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


Behind, dammit.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:29 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


You elect teams, not individuals, by necessity. The person who votes on a bill is a representative of many other people, a number of whom work with (and often directly for) that representative to read and interpret and vote on the bill. There is no way for any such government representative, working alone, to read and thoroughly understand and debate and rewrite and read again and debate again and vote on every bill that such a representative has to vote on, and there is no way to reduce the size and number of bills enough to make such a thing possible.
posted by pracowity at 6:35 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


The slower they work, the less they do, and that's probably a GOOD thing.

First of all, eponysterical. Second of all, low expectations are definitely the way to improve government.
posted by DU at 6:36 AM on March 22, 2007


I would love to sign this petition and send it to my Congressman. But, as a D.C. resident, I have no real representation ... *sigh*
posted by chinese_fashion at 6:38 AM on March 22, 2007


I would rather pass a law that says congress cannot add riders to bills after a certain time.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:49 AM on March 22, 2007


I'm starting a petition to force the members of 'DownsizeDC' to read every single Congress bill. Hopefully by the end they will realise what a naive, misguided idea this is.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 6:50 AM on March 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


Mmmmm, babka....
posted by greatgefilte at 7:10 AM on March 22, 2007


The congressional committee system is easily dealt with; modify the RTBA to require the bills to be read and attested to by all the members of the committee that forwards the bill to the floor (rather than the entire House/Senate).

DU's comments are on point -- there's certainly a secondary agenda driving the DownsizeDC folks. On the other hand, there's a real problem with Congressfolks voting on bills they don't understand and haven't reviewed. In the GOP Congress of the past six years they often haven't even been allowed to review the bills, since the leadership would bring the bill to the floor and hold an immediate vote.

One part of the DownsizeDC platform that I can enthusiastically support is the Internet-publication of all legislation 7 days before the vote. Our Congressfolks may not have the time to read the bills, but crowdsourcing would spot many of the problems that otherwise sail through unnoted.

Whether the Congressfolks would act upon problems when they were identified remains to be seen.
posted by srt19170 at 7:12 AM on March 22, 2007 [5 favorites]


what srt said, but all cmtte members are not enough--all voting members have to prove they've read the bills, i think.

Publishing it all online pre-voting is a fab idea. Smart congresspeople should have already been doing this.

It's ridiculous that you have staffers and councilmembers inserting things into bills that were already voted on, and it's especially ridiculous that Senators and Reps vote without actually reading bills.
posted by amberglow at 7:28 AM on March 22, 2007


As for the latter phenomenon Slashdot (yeah, I know) had a posting about source control for bills in congress which I thought was pretty well on point. You'd have an exact record of what changes were made, when and by whom, and there'd at least be some accountability. If additionally, you actually had to be a congressman to press the button to commit the changes, you'd even have _voter_ accountability. Now there's a concept.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:37 AM on March 22, 2007


There's a section in The Power Broker about how Robert Moses was the best bill drafter Albany had ever seen. Even when the other legislators thought they understood things, it turned out they had no idea, because the new bill would interact with the old laws in bizarre ways that ended up giving Moses complete control.
posted by smackfu at 7:41 AM on March 22, 2007


How about we force all voters to read every bill in congress?
posted by delmoi at 7:43 AM on March 22, 2007


Almost any idea presented in this thread--internet publication, public versioning, ensuring that at least committee members read the bill--is better than a public oration in front of a quorum of senators or representatives who wouldn't be paying attention. Besides, does it matter if Congress knows what it's passing if the Executive Branch can redefine the bill any way it wants? Let's get rid of signing statements first, and then we can work on this.

Or: You can read a bill to Congress, but you cannot make it think.
posted by thecaddy at 8:11 AM on March 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


I thought signing statements weren't legal? (or hasn't it been decided yet?)
posted by amberglow at 8:25 AM on March 22, 2007


I thought signing statements weren't legal? (or hasn't it been decided yet?)

No, the Decider has said they're legal (otherwise he wouldn't be using them), therefore they are.
posted by inigo2 at 8:37 AM on March 22, 2007


They're unconstitutional, for the same reason the line-item veto was. There just hasn't been a significant challenge to them yet. (Of course, if signing statements are banned, the executive branch could just not enforce laws and we wouldn't have any record of it at all . . . I guess they're good for something.)
posted by thecaddy at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2007


that's what i thought. has anyone brought them to court about them yet?
posted by amberglow at 8:54 AM on March 22, 2007


First find a real example of them breaking the law by following the signing statement instead.
posted by smackfu at 9:09 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


We dare Congress not to pass it. The more they resist, the larger and stronger we will grow...

We dare anyone to challenge it in Court. The more the lobbyists attempt to defeat this reform, the larger and stronger we will grow.

We dare the Courts to declare it un-Constitutional. If they do, we will grow larger and stronger as a result — probably big enough to begin a campaign to amend the Constitution to forbid "LEGISLATION without representation."


Yeah. This should end well.

It's a great idea, and one SHOULD garner public support, but, uh... let's not stick our dicks in the mashed potatoes just yet, eh?
posted by Mayor West at 9:22 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


What's always annoyed me about religion since I was a kid is the dogma. God gave Moses two stone tablets. Five simple sentences on each one. Kept it simple. How could anyone screw that up? Then human beings came along and wrote Leviticus & Numbers. Have you EVER tried to read through those two books? They take those ten simple rules and convoluted them so much as to make them indecipherable. It's maddening. When they got so anal as to measure one bushel as work? I threw the book across the room. Stupid humans.

How about congresspeople just not pass any legislation that's got more words in it than sense? The whole legal system is top heavy cuz lawyers have their own embedded code inside the english language, where words have specific meanings and they gotta communicate in 'legalese' based on past legislation, making the resulting prose so encumbered by a lack of common sense as to be impossible to read without wanting to pull your hair out and put red hot pokers in your eye sockets.

Just stop writing up legislature that can't be scribbled on the back of a postcard. Keep It Simple Stupid. Then again, if they did that, lawyers would be out of a job within a generation or two, cuz we wouldn't need them to decipher anything anymore. ...Good!
posted by ZachsMind at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2007


The slower they work, the less they do, and that's probably a GOOD thing.

This is unequivocal bullshit, and until America ditches this attitude, we will continue our downward slide.

Governments serve a vital purpose: hamstringing them does nothing positive. Limits, oversight, checks and balances: yes. But this retarded libertarian position that a crippled/innefective government is a good thing is sophistry of the highest order. Spend some time in in Sierra Leone or wherever, and have a taste of the "limited government" that you seem to think is so grand.

This site? Fuck them. Where were they last year? Nowhere to be found, and that's not an accident. "Drown it in the bathtub people," as this site is, are NOT TO BE TRUSTED. AT ALL.

When Republicans ran things, and these people were certain that their R cronies would cut their taxes and hand out the corporate welfare, big government is FUCKING EXCELLENT! When Democrats take charge, and big government might do things like help labor or provide much needed corporate oversight, or, even worse, not cut taxes for the super rich, well then, hell, big government is EEEVILL.

Fuck these self-serving bastards.
posted by teece at 10:04 AM on March 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's amusing how their website is full of huge lists of committee members. Big committees: that's the path to efficiency.
Yeah, but it's the private sector, so it's okay.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:58 AM on March 22, 2007


How about we force all voters to read every bill in congress?

In which case, tell me why we'd need Congress again? Direct participation at the national level by everybody with Internet access...whoa, we might need a new Constitutional Convention to redraft the blueprint for how the three branches of government will interact if we're going to toss representative democracy out the window.
posted by pax digita at 11:04 AM on March 22, 2007


pax digita: That experiment (government directly by the people) has repercussions, because people are kind of stupid.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:48 AM on March 22, 2007


Sorry, meant to add to search for the word 'Doris' in that.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:49 AM on March 22, 2007


People like Tom Delay?
posted by nofundy at 12:04 PM on March 22, 2007


"Just stop writing up legislature that can't be scribbled on the back of a postcard. Keep It Simple Stupid. Then again, if they did that, lawyers would be out of a job within a generation or two, cuz we wouldn't need them to decipher anything anymore. ...Good!"

Why is it that whenever I see a comment from you lately it reads like the self-righteousness of a precocious high schooler?
posted by klangklangston at 12:18 PM on March 22, 2007


It's ridiculous that you have staffers and councilmembers inserting things into bills that were already voted on
This does not happen. Any change to a bill necessitates a new vote. In the case discussed in a previous thread, the change was added at the conference committee level (perhaps, yes, by a staffer, though no one knows for sure), but it was there for 3 months before the bill was finally approved by the Senate. Indeed, had anyone bothered to actually read the bill, the change would have been discovered.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:27 PM on March 22, 2007


srt19170: It'd be great to see that (internet publishing of bills 7 days before a vote), but it still wouldn't make the congresspeople listen to a word any of us had to say about them.
posted by JHarris at 1:13 PM on March 22, 2007


"Just stop writing up legislature that can't be scribbled on the back of a postcard. Keep It Simple Stupid. Then again, if they did that, lawyers would be out of a job within a generation or two, cuz we wouldn't need them to decipher anything anymore. ...Good!
posted by ZachsMind"


Seriously, just....buh? What? First, it's legislation, not legislature. The legislature is the body of folks who draft the legislation.

Also, not all the world's problems and ills can be discussed at a nice, folksy, 100 word vocabulary, fourth grade level.

Much as that "fancy talk" might irk you, it's necessary, and even handy, to have precise, useful, specialized words to describe precise, specialized issues.
posted by stenseng at 1:39 PM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Does anyone really think that forcing our elected representatives to sit through the reading of a 10000 page bill is going to help?

I mean, I agree that there's a problem here, but this extra-constitutional approach could only result in even less getting done in congress...
posted by meta_eli at 2:04 PM on March 22, 2007


Then human beings came along and wrote Leviticus & Numbers. Have you EVER tried to read through those two books? They take those ten simple rules and convoluted them so much as to make them indecipherable.

Not everone agrees with you. From the guy at Slate who's reading through the Bible for the first time:
Hey—all you folks who told me Leviticus was boring? You're nuts. It's fascinating!...Chapter 19 is glorious—a catalog of laws that's even more impressive, in their own way, than the Ten Commandments.
posted by straight at 2:10 PM on March 22, 2007


A 10000 page bill? Who the fuck types these things, teams of captive classical English poets?
posted by tehloki at 5:34 PM on March 22, 2007


I was so intrigued by this post and the comments that I posted a diary at DailyKOS about it including a nifty poll.
posted by wpbinder at 1:54 AM on March 23, 2007


i love that Blogging the Bible thing, straight--wonderful.

There's no requirement that Congresspeople have to be present all the time anyway--only for votes i think. So they wouldn't show if all bills were read aloud. I think some sort of signature thing--so we have them on record as having read everything (not their aides or any staffers, but their own signature)--might work.
posted by amberglow at 5:19 AM on March 23, 2007


The slower they work, the less they do, and that's probably a
Enron Hubbard said: I think we need a No Congressman Left Behind Act, that tests all of them for proficiency and reading comprehension, and mandates increased performance every year, or their salaries and benefits are cut off.


I ran for governor of Texas years and years ago when I was a student (partly as a joke, and partly as a political science project), and the No Pass, No Legislate was one our party plank platforms. I still think it's a good idea.
posted by dejah420 at 7:09 AM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


The first thing that came to my mind on this is the new loophole that it would open up - congressmen could actively NOT read a bill to filibuster it...right? Or would they just not be able to vote on it? What if they needed a few more minutes?
posted by pithy comment at 1:51 PM on March 23, 2007


you're right, pithy. I guess you'd have to make a rule that you couldn't vote for bills you hadn't signed off on or something.

(i would have definitely voted for you, dejah!)
posted by amberglow at 1:58 PM on March 23, 2007


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