Saturday, June 27, 2009

Our banana republic

On early Friday morning, House Democrats added a 300-page amendment to the "climate-change" bill, bringing the bill's total length to either 1,309 or 1,500 pages, depending on the report. (This recent edition of War and Peace is only 1,296 pages.) The House narrowly passed the bill later that day. Hugh Hewitt comments:

They could not have read the bill.

A 300 page amendment to a bill that greatly impacts every American and greatly burdens every American business was introduced at 3:00 AM Friday and passed 16 hours later. The spectacle of the House voting for a massive tax increase and a 300 page amendment they could not have read is a low point for post-segregationist Congresses. Never have so few read so little about so important a proposal, and yet brazen forward oblivious to the deeply embarrassing charade it presents to the world. Banana republics make a better show of governing themselves than did the U.S. House of Representatives today.

The unseriousness of our political leaders is simply breathtaking. It would be unsurprising, from time to time, for a member of Congress to vote on (or even for) a bill he or she has not read in its entirety. This is not ideal, and not particularly honorable, but given the number, breadth and scope of the bills that Congress considers each term, it's probably inevitable. A Congressman from Queens with no knowledge of agriculture could be excused for deferring to a trusted colleague from Nebraska when voting on a farm bill, for example.

But for a member of Congress to vote on -- and especially to vote for -- a bill that not one member of Congress has read in its entirety is an abdication of duty, the legislative equivalent of a soldier firing a machine gun with his eyes closed. If you think that analogy is overheated, remember that climate-change ideologues warn us that the earth is egg-shell fragile; that every increase (or decrease) in temperature anywhere around the world is evidence of man's predation and of impending catastrophe; that if we don't make things precisely right we are doomed, and that the hour is very, very late indeed. If you believe this to be true, wouldn't you also believe it is important to read carefully (and perhaps even debate) a wide-ranging piece of environmental legislation before passing it?

Our elected officials owe us their best judgment. (Based on the available evidence, many of them are capable of good judgment only intermittently, but we at least deserve their best efforts.) We don't get even that. Important bills are rushed through so quickly that even earnest representatives could not hope to read them carefully, much less analyze their potential effects. The climate-change bill and the stimulus package are two glaring examples, but as the organization Open Congress has noted, they aren't the only ones.

To vote for a bill no Congressman has read in its final form, while simultaneously declaring its passage vital to the survival of the planet, is cynicism at its worst.

P.S. Check out Open Congress's "Read the Bill" proposal, which would require Congress to provide a 72 hour reading period, beginning once a bill is put into its final form, before putting it up to a vote.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Cris,

    Thanks for supporting Read the Bill ( Just a quick correction Read the Bill is sponsored by the Sunlight FOundation, who is also a partner with Participatory Politics Foundation that created Open Congress.

    Here's an update on the Cap & Trade bill: here you can see what was in those 300 pages that they rushed through. As expected it contains mostly sweeteners for members of Congress who were on the fence.

    Hopefully this won't happen with the health care reform legislation. They better post the legislation online in its complete form so we can all see what laws our government is passing.


    Nisha Thompson
    Online Organizer
    Sunlight Foundation