Monday, September 28, 2009

Why "Reading the Bill" Won't Work

I've blogged before about the impracticality of the "read the bill" movement. Many groups have joined together to demand that members of Congress read every bill that is introduced. Their argument is that lawmakers shouldn't vote to pass legislation they haven't read. This makes perfect sense, on its face.

Recently, the Post editorialized on this issue, pointing out the impracticalities of actually reading all 10,000 bills that are introduced in a two year Congressional session. Members of Congress and their staff would be doing nothing but reading whereas' and wherefore's until their eyes crossed.

I responded to the Post editorial agreeing with the impracticality argument. But in my opinion, the editors missed the main point, which is that reading the bill and understanding what the bill does are two entirely different things. You can read my response, which was printed in the Post on Saturday, here.

My main point is that the bill language isn't what legislators need to spend time reading in order to understand a legislative initiative. If they need to read anything, it's the biased and unbiased summaries from wide varieties of groups and individuals on their opinions of what the bill language might do in real life.

And beyond reading, they need to meet with constituents, knowledgeable citizens, subject matter experts, representatives of those "horrible" special interests like the AARP or the HSUS (tongue firmly in cheek) and even a lobbyist or two to have a complete understanding of how the bill language might impact the people they represent. Then, they need to balance the perspectives of all these groups and make decisions based on what they think will be best for their constituency.

The good news is that this is exactly what the vast majority of legislators and their staff try do every single day. So maybe this situation isn't quite as dire as some might have you believe.

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