Monday, June 29, 2009

Contempt for the People

Iain Murray suggests a new Constitutional amendment. I have been having very similar thoughts lately, as have, it appears, several of his other readers.

The news that President Obama's much vaunted transparency promises have already gone the way of all flesh comes as no surprise to me. The farce on the House floor yesterday was a good example of why they couldn't survive. For those who missed it (and Andy's post doesn't quite convey the whole story of the farrago), Rep. Mike Pence started the debate yesterday morning by pointing out that the House leadership had dropped a 300-page amendment to the already 1200-ish page Waxman-Markey energy tax bill at 3:09 in the morning. Clearly, debate started before anyone had had a chance to read it properly, but the House leadership just didn't care. Then, mid-afternoon, Reps. Louie Goehmert (who did a splendid job all round) and Energy & Commerce Ranking Member Joe Barton (who clearly couldn't believe what was going on) raised a series of Parliamentary Inquiries as to whether there was a copy of the amended bill anywhere in the House for members to read. Chairman Markey was dismissive, saying there was a copy on the wesbite, which, Rep. Barton pointed out, was not much help to members on the floor of the House actually, you know, debating the bill. Eventually the Chair, who was very fair throughout the afternoon, admitted that the Clerk was in the process of integrating the amendment into the hard copy in the House. So for most of the day the House was debating a bill that didn't actually physically exist, never mind having had a chance to read, digest, and consider it.

Let me just state this as simply as I can: This is a gross abuse of the Parliamentary process and represents nothing less than contempt for the people of the United States of America.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened this year. As I suggested during the Stimulus idiocy, a simple constitutional amendment might help:

Before voting on any Bill, a Senator or Representative shall certify to the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House respectively that they have read the Bill in full.

One reader had similar ideas, suggesting (link may be broken):

“No bill shall be deemed to have passed the House of Representatives or the Senate unless such bill shall have received a majority of yeay votes from the membership of each House; yeay votes shall only be counted from members who swear under penalty of perjury that they have read the entirety of the text of each bill.”

Another reader agreed, saying,

I say "Amen". Some would complain that this would slow Congress down, allowing only for a few bills to be passed per session. To which I say "Amen", yet again. It's like putting money in the bank and making even more with compounding interest. One good things leads to more good things with this. Excellent idea, Iain. Where do we get the process started?

Good question. On the principle that social media is the future of political campaigning, I've set up a website for Read The Bill, which is currently just a skeleton, although I'll copy these posts there. I also think a pledge by lawmakers that they will read a bill and not vote for any rule to allow debate on a bill they haven't read might be a useful idea, and that might be a good way to start. Ideas are welcome — head over there and sign up. Let's see if we can reach critical mass.

I add here that this is a purely personal idea, not affiliated with CEI or National Review (unless they want to come on board) and is intended as a completely nonpartisan initiative. I cannot believe that liberals of good faith are happy with the idea that our Congress is routinely voting on bills they haven't read. So I hope some liberals will come on board and will help promote the idea as well. This is an initiative on behalf of the people, so let's see what the people say, and where they lead us.

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