Common Sense & An Open Mind

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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Out of Control Legislation

Posted by Free to Think on December 7, 2009

What if our laws became so huge and so complex, that no one understood them? What if even the Congressmen who passed them had no idea what was in our laws? What if it was so cumbersome and time consuming to read the lengthy bills put before them, that our representatives simply voted for them without even checking their content? What if bills were put to a vote so quickly that it was physically impossible to read, let alone research bills before Congress was pressed to vote on them?

Unfortunately, we don’t need to wonder. It has become standard practice in Washington.

James Madison, wrote in Federalist 62: ““It will be of little avail to the people that the laws be made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

What are the implications of a nation that doesn’t understand its own laws?

Downsize DC, one of my favorite non-partisan, small-government advocacy groups, is promoting a bill unlike any that Congress has seen in a while. “Read the Bills” Act is pretty straightforward. In 3 concise pages of legislation the bill would:

  • require that all bills be read before a quorum in Congress,
  • require an affidavit from every member who votes, affirming they have read and understood it
  • require the posting online of bills for 48 hours before a vote

It seems pretty ludicrous that such a bill should even be necessary. How, in good conscience, can our representatives vote on bills without knowing what’s in them? If they don’t know, who does? The public often has no opportunity to see it. If representatives don’t understand the law completely, should they be voting for it?

In November alone, the House and Senate passed a total of 55 bills amounting to 2,988 pages. These pages influence our lives, liberty, and hard-earned tax dollars. Sponsors of bills often push for quick passage before there’s time for debate or investigation. Backroom additions and deletions are often made at the last moment, without informing the rest of Congress.

What lawmakers in their right minds would oppose a bill that asks them to know what they vote for? But some say that “RTBA” is “impractical” in our modern, complex economy. Really? So it is practical to indiscriminately pass laws without knowledge of what they contain?

It’s the very complexity of our society that makes Congress unqualified to regulate every aspect of it. While it’s appropriate to pass laws against such things as fraud and monopolistic ventures, Congress simply doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise to impose sweeping regulations of every industry. Unwise legislation and regulations have contributed to such disasters as the housing bubble and the health insurance debacle* .

Congress’ purpose should be to protect our lives and liberty under the Constitution. Congress might not have had time to read every word of the Patriot Act, but you and I can be put in prison for violating any part of that law.

“Read the Bills” would have many implications, but it would not obstruct passage of necessary, Constitutional legislation. The effects of these provisions will be profound:

  • Congress will have to slow down, giving an opportunity for better-informed decisions.
  • It will slow the pace of government growth.
  • So that Congress will be able to endure hearing them read, bills will shrink, be less complicated, and contain fewer subjects.
  • There will be less passage of bad laws due to “log-rolling” (attaching unpopular proposals with popular measures that Congress feels compelled to vote for.)
  • There will be no more secretive, 11th-hour clauses inserted into bills.
  • Government should shrink as old laws reach their sunset date, and have to be read for the first time before they can be renewed.

I urge you to contact your Senators and Congressmen, asking them to support the “Read the Bills” Act. You can do so easily by going to Downsize DC, who will walk you through the process.

Another smart bill that Downsize endorses is known as “One Subject At A Time”. This would prevent the pork barrel legislation that has become so prevalent. More on that later. For a summary of Downsize DC’s other sensible campaigns, go to .

*See my archives for specific examples on health insurance. I can speak more about housing in future articles.

2 Responses to “Out of Control Legislation”

  1. Jim Babka said

    Thanks for promoting the Read the Bills Act.

    – Jim Babka,, Inc.

  2. […] more regulations the government writes, the greater the advantage of the powerful corporate lobby. Congressmen don’t have the time to read, let alone write, all the laws they pass. They are typically unfamiliar with the businesses they […]

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