Accountability on both ends

As most of you know, I have the radical idea that people should know just how their legislators voted on issues of interest before they go to decide on those legislators’ electoral fates. Unfortunately, we only get that chance every 2 to 4 years.

However, job performance is something the rest of us are graded on with much greater frequency. For most jobs, doing the task means having at least a nodding familiarity with proper procedures, codes, and regulations (many of which were put into place by those same legislators) lest the project be done improperly, putting yourself at risk and leaving the company open to liability or other loss.

I’m already pretty skeptical about our Congressional representatives being familiar with our Constitution (a.k.a. the rules of the road) but I really question their effectiveness and fidelity to the job when they can’t even be bothered to read the legislation placed in front of them. Nowhere was this more apparent than the recent passage of the Waxman-Markey “cap and tax” bill, where 300 pages were dumped into the bill at 3 a.m. the day of the vote – a vote conveniently scheduled on a day when Congress was scheduled to beat it out of town on recess.

While it’s not been given as much press as the TEA Party movement, a quiet effort has also been put forth to compel Congress to slow down a little and digest those items they are asked to consider. With the far-reaching consequences of some bills (like Waxman-Markey), the rush to get them passed seems inappropriate – that is, unless the alacrity to get the legislation through was a response to the opposition sure to gather. Better get it passed before some people change their mind.

It’s a lament brought up by a recent post by Marc Scribner on the blog. And while he brings up the attempt by the Let Freedom Ring organization to have Congress actually read any health care legislation Pelosi and company deem worthy of a vote, an online petition called “Pledge to Read”, I’m also aware of another group who’s carrying the water on this called the Sunlight Foundation, on a site called Read the Bill.

Even Congress has gotten into the act in a bipartisan manner – that is, if you believe this bill (H. Res. 554) has any hope of passage.

However, perhaps a better question to ask is why there would even need to be such restrictions on how Congress proceeds? My thought on this has been that Congress should take just as much time considering what laws to take OFF the books as they do dreaming new ones up. While we’re at it, I also believe in term limits and that most new legislation which involves expenditure should have a sunset date of 10 years before reauthorization.

It’s this blizzard of new legislation combined with the thought processes of geniuses in a thousand different government bureaus and agencies that makes Fedzilla such an onerous player in our society. And to whose benefit does all this gobbledygook accrue? I don’t think it’s doing me any favors and I’m betting you feel the same way.

Unfortunately, it’s a war of attrition for those of us who are “soldiers” in the fight for lesser government and what the opponents count on is that we’ll grow weary of the fight. We can see just who is on our side once it’s revealed who signed the “Pledge to Read” later in August and how many other cosponsors jump onto H. Res. 554 – how hard will they spar with San Fran Nan for its passage? My fear is that it will be nowhere near enough to make a difference.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

6 thoughts on “Accountability on both ends”

  1. The whole “read the bill” thing isn’t really all that useful. Senators and Congressmen know what is in legislation. If they don’t, then they should fire their staff, whose whole purpose is to know this. My problem isn’t that our legislators don’t know what’s in the bills, it’s that they vote for legislation that steals our money and takes away our rights. It’s not like they do this accidentally.

    We would probably benefit from a slower legislative process so the public can become better informed on legislation. But to think that somehow things would be better if Congressmen had time to literally read legislation (or the committee report for the legislation, which is far more useful) is pretty far-fetched.

    Also, most federal programs are already mandated to go through a reauthorization process. And, in a sense, they are forced to be reauthorized every year when Congress passes appropriations legislation to fund them. Every program outside of entitlements must receive a new appropriations every fiscal year. Congress is already doing a yearly review of legislation that involves expenditures.

  2. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing staff reductions for Congressmen. I think the main point of these groups though is to avoid situations where we get behemoth bills with hundreds of pages dumped into them at the last minute.

    As for the comment regarding reauthorization, you are correct in a way. But there can be improvements on the federal level, including the elimination of baseline budgeting. When I wrote that I was thinking more about the state level and their never-ending creation of funds for this and that.

  3. Excellent points. At the bottom of the post, I mention Also, there is a libertarian group called Downsize DC that has been pushing the same sort of thing for several years.

  4. Thanks for supporting Read the Bill. I hope you also take a moment to call your member of Congress. Lawmakers and their staff need to be educated on why this measure is important to their constituents and essential for better lawmaking.

    The more transparency available during the debate of legislation the less likely secret provisions and earmarks are put in at the last minute. Congress needs to be forced to do this not just with a new rule but also with constituents demanding they see bills that will affect their lives.

    So thank you for writing about Read the bill and also voicing your opinion on what needs to change.

    Nisha Thompson
    Sunlight Foundation
    Online Organizer

  5. You’re welcome. Unfortunately there are those like John Conyers who can’t be bothered with details – after all, it’s only what the lobbyists wrote anyway.

    I suspect he’s lost on anything over the length of a postcard and lets his aides whisper in his ear what they think is in the bill.

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