Senator Rand Paul has a proposal on the table that all members of Congress should be required to read the bills on which they vote. Consider 6,845 bills were introduced in the 112th Congress, and some are well over 1,000 pages long. Of course, the message behind Paul’s Read the Bills Act is resolutions of Congress need to be made shorter, simpler, and easier to digest.
Whether this is feasible for bills that deal with complex industries like health care or negotiations that involve foreign trade regulations is another matter entirely. Currently, members of Congress often rely on aides, their party offices, lobbyists, and non-partisan organizations like the Congressional Budget Office to summarize the intent, content, and impact of a proposed bill.
When Paul announced his 2016 campaign for the presidency, he said, “The bills are thousands of pages long. And no one reads them. They are often plopped on our desks with only a few hours before a vote.”
Paul went on to describe a 600-page bill that addressed highway funding, flood insurance, and student loan rates. He received it the morning of the day the Senate was voting on it.
As Paul told the Wall Street Journal when he suggested a bill receive a one-day waiting period for every 20 pages, “People laugh. But they need smaller bills and they need time to read bills.”
That means the 600-page bill Paul had only hours to read would have a 30-day waiting period instead. It sounds sensible, but also consider the morass Congress found themselves in:
Delaying that bill would also have seen federal highway funding disappear only one day later and student loan rates double after two days.
Of course, the rush meant members of Congress were only discovering how that bill affected their states as the House and Senate were trying to pass it. This meant Congress still didn’t get the bill passed in time, so instead they passed week-long extensions of previous highway funding and student loan rates in order to cover the time until the bill could be fully passed.
The same strategy could feasibly see month-long extensions in the case of Paul’s Read the Bill Act, but it could also open up a new game of brinksmanship in Congress over extensions for federal funding when it comes to specific programs.
Roll Call’s analysis considers the bill largely symbolic, since in Paul’s version of the bill, a super-majority vote (60 votes in the Senate) could temporarily suspend the “read the bills” requirement. The Read the Bills Act could simply add even more procedural debate and voting to an already backlogged Congress. According to their analysis, the way the Read the Bills Act is written right now, voting on whether to read individual bills or not could give Congress even less time to read the bills they’d simply vote not to read anyway.
Perhaps the most ironic fact about the Read the Bills Act is members of Congress would not actually be required to read it in order to pass it.
Do you support Rand Paul’s Read the Bills resolution? Would it streamline Congress or just give them one more procedure to ignore?