Digging The Read The Bills Act

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A bill, not written by Congress, requiring that US representatives actually read legislation before voting on it, under penalty of perjury, has been around a couple of years, but hasn’t received much attention. The authors of the bill aim to remedy that through an online viral campaign, leveraging the sudden power of social networking.

Well, at least it appears that it is beginning. The Read the Bills Act, penned by libertarian grass roots pundit group DownsizeDC.org, has been kicked around a bit on the Web since 2005, when Daily Kos held a small debate about it. And Wikipedia, of course, has a page devoted to it.

But you’d be hard pressed to find it mentioned in the mainstream press, despite its immediate, pragmatic appeal, and YouTube, well, there is just one video referring to it, buried somewhere in an hour of amateur material, viewed as of a few minutes ago, just 57 times.

Perhaps, though, the campaign is on the brink, encouraged by a sudden flood of political appeals – Hillary, Obama, Kucinich – springing up on YouTube.

The movement has been taken to Digg.com, instead, for discussion and exposure, and Diggers have been prompted to digg and digg as much as they will. Rye Terrell has even posted a how-to there, instructing his online support to use the social news site get it passed "in 3 easy steps."

Why do I say this is just a beginning? DownsizeDC, if true to their word, have pledged to recruit for their cause using a variety of tactics, including "Internet networking," inspired, no doubt, by the successes of their political rivals at MoveOn.org, an organization proving the power of viral communication.

The Read the Bills Act, and its driving slogan "No legislation without representation," were born of frustration with Capitol Hill politicians that seemed unaware of provisions tucked into the verbose, arcane language of legislation, or of unpopular legislation hidden inside unpopular, mammoth bills. And then, though they don’t know every detail of the bill, they vote on it anyway.

The Patriot Act seems to be a big sore spot for the bill’s support circles, even to the point that conservative pundits have to concede to liberal poster child documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. In the polarizing film Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore drove an ice cream truck around Washington D.C., reading the Patriot Act over a loudspeaker, wondering if anybody had actually read it.

DownsizeDC seems to believe that nobody, or next to nobody, in Congress actually did read the whole thing. The Read the Bills Act, if the organization can convince a member of Congress to actually express an interest in doing their job by sponsoring it, requires that:

  • Each bill, and every amendment, must be read in its entirety before a quorum in both the House and Senate.
  • Every member of the House and Senate must sign a sworn affidavit, under penalty of perjury, that he or she has attentively either personally read, or heard read, the complete bill to be voted on.
  • Every old law coming up for renewal under the sunset provisions must also be read according to the same rules that apply to new bills.
  • Every bill to be voted on must be published on the Internet at least 7 days before a vote, and Congress must give public notice of the date when a vote will be held on that bill.
  • Passage of a bill that does not abide by these provisions will render the measure null and void, and establish grounds for the law to be challenged in court.
  • Congress cannot waive these requirements.

DownsizeDC claims passage of the bill would slow the pace at which Congress passes legislation (a libertarian platform point); would decrease the size of bills introduced and simplify their language; would end the practice of "log-rolling," or sneaking special interest or unpopular proposals into legislation just before a vote; and shrink the size of the government over time (a conservative platform point).

To save you the trouble of reading the entire bill, no, there is no secret provision in it requiring legislators who didn’t read it to sit on a porcupine or some other funny ironic twist.

So far, among the limited audience the bill has received, response has been largely positive, especially the part about posting bills on the Internet a week in advance. As always there are dissenting voices who say the bill would slow down Congress too much, or even cripple it, or that legislators would find a way around it somehow.

The extra-conspiratorial have noted that the bill reeks of anarchistic libertarian agendas, which of course, it just might. But you have to admit, it’s surprising if you haven’t thought of it, even appalling, the idea that our legislators run around blindly voting for laws that affect all of us without actually knowing what they say. 

But if this movement is successful, it will be one of the most historic bills passed in US history: a bill that enters politicians into an accountability system of their own free will (sort of), pushed upon them by a wired, social network of constituents heretofore (before the Internet) much more ignorant about the goings-on in Washington, and worse, powerless to stop it without the voice of the dollar.

And though we thought it would be televised, the revolution may actually be webcasted.

Digging The Read The Bills Act
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  • Lanny Porter

    I personally think the idea of our senators and representatives actually having to read or have read to them every proposed piece of legislation that they are going to vote on is a wonderful idea.

    That’s the way it used to be at one time. It used to be mandatory in the days of our founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson made it a part of the rules when he penned Jefferson’s Manual outlining rules and procedures for the Senate.

    In an 1808 letter while President he penned the statement, “The same
    prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for
    unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public
    moneys”. Our taxpayer money was then seen as sacred and important. Hard earned in other words and to be guarded and spent with respect and carefulness, not just thrown around like it doesn’t matter, “We can just print more”.

    The excesses of our government need to be brought to a halt. Accountability needs to return to our government. In my opinion a good place to start would be the passing of the “Read the Bills Act”.

    I have written letters to both of my senators and my representative here in the state of Missouri individually and through DownsizeDC.org asking that they consider sponsoring and then passing this act. I have also written them on other subjects as well. And on several occasions it has already made a difference. We can make a difference and we can get this passed.

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