Shorter bills, please

This practice should not really surprise anyone, but should be stopped:
"Congress frequently votes on huge and complex bills that few if any members of the House or Senate has read through. They couldn’t read them even if they wanted to, since it is not unusual for legislation to be put to a vote just hours after the text is made available to lawmakers. Congress passed the gigantic, $787 billion “stimulus’’ bill in February - the largest spending bill in history - after having had only 13 hours to master its 1,100 pages. A 300-page amendment was added to Waxman-Markey, the mammoth cap-and-trade energy bill, at 3 a.m. on the day the bill was to be voted on by the House. And that wasn’t the worst of it, as law professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve University noted in National Review Online: “When Waxman-Markey finally hit the floor, there was no actual bill. Not one single copy of the full legislation that would, hours later, be subject to a final vote was available to members of the House. The text made available to some members of Congress still had ‘placeholders’ - blank provisions to be filled in by subsequent language.’’
Advantage: lobbyists, obfuscators and special interests. Steny Hoyer's complaining in the article above reminds me of my players in basketball camp, whining. If you and the other members of Congress are going to construct horrifically long bills, then yes, you do have to read them before you vote on them. Most great works are remarkably concise: the Bible, whose books tell full stories, but rarely run longer than 30 pages; the Constitution is only seven or eight pages long; the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence, shorter than that; the Gettysburg Address two paragraphs. Brevity demands excellence; when lawmakers tack on extra pages every time they feel like it, the result is mediocrity and a reaming of the general public. The problem is that the community that benefits from an extra paragraph (extra funding for a specific project, or whatever) is concentrated, and extremely happy to see their lawmaker add the provision whereas the community that suffers (literally, everyone else) is diffuse, and hard to rally.

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One thought on “Shorter bills, please

  1. Andy McKenzie

    Good point about how quite literally everybody else is worse off when minority groups get their way. Democracy is the tyranny of the *minority* over the majority on most issues.

    Reply

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