The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Would you bother you to read before you vote?

"Senators and representatives who vote on bills they haven't read and don't understand betray their constituents' trust. It is no excuse to say that Congress would get much less done if every member took the time to read every bill. Fewer and shorter laws more carefully thought through would be a vast improvement over today's massive bills, which are assembled in the dark and enacted in haste. (Rep.) Steny Hoyer chortles at the thought of asking members of Congress to do their job properly. It's up to voters to wipe the grin off his face." -- Jeff Jacoby in a Boston Globe column that mentions's Read the Bills Act

“If every member pledged to not vote for a bill if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes,’’ Hoyer said. Hoyer is the Majority Leader in the US House of Representatives.

Hmmm. Fewer votes on legislation about which the voters (elected representatives and senators) know only what they have been told by people like Hoyer (who probably haven't read the legislation themselves). And Hoyer thinks that's a bad thing.

But if there are fewer votes, how will the nation's business get done? I like the idea of folks doing "business" while knowing almost nothing about the business they are doing. It surely does deal effectively with inconveniences like having to balance the books and obey the law.

Seriously, can anyone think of a downside to asking Stephanie, John and Tim to read the bills on which they vote?


Poplicola said...

Isn't this why the Members have a staff?

I think it is very rare for most executives to get into this kind of detail. For example, take a budget (I'm making all these facts up, but you'll get the point). Say, for example, the top income tax rate is going to be 39.6% and the next-highest rate will be 36.0%. Now, isn't it enough to know the top rate applies to people making more than $250,000 and the next highest rate applies to people making more than $175,000? Or do you think there's a reason each Member of Congress needs to know that this is pursuant to the authority Congress has from Article II Section 12 of the Constitution, as established in the Income Tax Act of 1862 as Amended by the Tax Code Act of 1934 and the Tax Code Act of 1982, specifically in Section 102.5900.488, US Code 96 (1862), and not to conflict witht the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1963 (US Code 403.788-2) or anything in the Federal Hate Crimes Bill of 1975 (US Code 906.1414-209).

And then you find out this is to be considered income before taxes, not including a Roth IRA, 401k, business health care expenses, expenses for adopting a child, moving for reasons of employment, charitable contributions to non profit organizations with a 401 (c)3 status, and all of those with their relevant codes?

I think the important thing is that they know the effect of the legislation, not that they've read every single legal definition and minute detail.

Poplicola said...

It has occurred to me that the voters who want Congress to do this do not impose the same standards on themselves. For example, when you read things on a ballot initiative, do you just read the Secretary of State's explanation of what the change in law would do, or do you actually go through the legal mumbo jumbo?

caheidelberger said...

How many of us read every word of an insurance policy before signing, or every word of the warranty contract on our cars?

There are limits to what each of us can do. It is reasonable to delegate some duty to trusted staff. But that's also why we need transparency in government: if a million people look through a thousand page bill, they'll find the loopholes and pork tricks and raise a stink soon enough.

Bob Newland said...

I read the text of ballot questions and I expect my elected congresscritters to do the same with stuff they expect me to abide by, even if it does not apply to them (much legislation does not, 'cuz they are, after all, royalty, and should not have to live with the laws they create for us).

caheidelberger does at least suggest that we all be able to read the bills--and comment on them--for a reasonable length of time prior to a vote by Congress. That would help some.

Poplicola said...


Let's say there is a ballot initiative that would ban capital punishment except in the case of treason.

Don't you think that is the important thing to know, or do you think the average person voting on that would need to know the number, section and line of the current law it would be replacing?

Bob Newland said...

In the example Pop gives, I agree that the substance of the proposed ballot question is enough for the average person, including me. But most bills are considerably more complex than the example, and cover much more ground. Those questions should be much more closely examined.

Bill Fleming said...

I'm just going to ask Bob what they say.

Poplicola said...


Here's the Senate HELP health care bill.

Take a look at the first page. Is it at all necessary to read that page when considering a vote?

Do I need to have read:

9 ACT.
10 Part A of title XXVII of the Public Health Service
11 Act (42 U.S.C. 300gg et seq.) is amended—
12 (1) by striking the part heading and inserting
13 the following:
16 (2) in section 2701 (42 U.S.C. 300gg)—
17 (A) by striking the section heading and
18 subsection (a) and inserting the following:
22 ‘‘(a) IN GENERAL

Is it important for me to know we're "redesignating existing sections 2704 through 2707 as sections 2715 through 2718?"

I would say not at all, and that reading all of that has in no way contributed to my understanding of the bill or what it would do.

Bob Newland said...

Unless one reads the bill, one does not know what the bill says. Therefore, one may not vote knowledgeably on it.

One of the effects of the Read the Bills Act ( would be that bills would be readable.

As for the health rationing bill, it should not be. Period.

Poplicola said...


That is what they call "dodging the question" in the business.

I think you're grasping at straws here.

Bob Newland said...

I give you an answer you don't like and you say I'm dodging the question. I think I answered it.

Again, one result of passing the Read the Bills Act would be that bills would be readable, and we would be less likely to have monstrosities like the current Health Rationing Act.

Les said...

Pop, you seem to be very intelligent. Why would you take this stance when our congress has created this mess? Also comparing voters duties to legislative duties is not comparable. Can you understand that taking that job requires due diligence! Cory reading my insurance policy doesn't relate to me not reading a bill as your legislator. Transparency and not allowing special interests to write this crap would minimize this whole issue.

Poplicola said...


The bills are that way because the law requires it. If you're writing a law and it's replacing old law, you certainly have to spell out what you're replacing. Lots of money is made or lost on what section 2407 says. And when you're talking about something as complex as health care, layman's terms aren't the best or really even workable in legal language.

Your magical "well the laws will change and we'll just use different words to write them" does not make sense. It's intellectually lazy. It's not what would happen, and if it did it would lead to mass confusion.

It is, in short, a pretty ridiculous notion.

Bob Newland said...

I don't deny what you're saying, Pop, about defining what a new law will replace. That is simple.

What you say about a health care law just illustrates why it is impossible for a law or grup of laws to provide health care. Can not be done. Government, stay out of it.

If a law can not be understood by a fourth grader, it has no purpose other than to entrap and confuse people. As far as "leading to mass confusion," looks to me like we're there.

It once was a "ridiculous notion" that women should have the vote or that black folks didn't need white folks to own and take care of them and give them work and a roof.

Poplicola said...


Your average fourth grader cannot understand a combustible engine, computer chips or how to make pepperoni.

Guess we should stay away from all of those, too.

I now present to you, Bob Newland's version of a penal code:

Bad guys do bad things. Good guys throw them in jail.

And a budget:
People pay money to do things that will be good.

Oh yeah, and I think we can all agree it's just a bit of hyperbole to compare this to slaver or women's suffrage