Patterico's Pontifications

12/19/2007

The Unwritten Unread Law

Filed under: Law — DRJ @ 2:08 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

Senators who voted on the omnibus spending bill almost certainly didn’t read it:

“More on that Omnibus [NRO/David Freddoso]

DeMint’s office put a finger in Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) eye last night:

DURBIN: “For 46 hours and 8 minutes—the Senator from South Carolina has had an opportunity to go to the Internet and see this bill in its entirety, with his staff, and to read every page… Please, do not come to the floor and suggest that this is a mystery bill which no one has seen. For 2 days, this has been posted on the Internet . You have had your chance. Every Senator has had a chance.” – Senate Floor, 12/18/07

According to Senator Durbin’s math: Every Senator had 2,768 minutes to read 3,417 pages of legislative text that included next year’s spending for every domestic program of the entire federal government and many new policy changes.

According to Senator Durbin’s math: A Senator that downloaded the bill when it was posted at 12:15 a.m. Monday morning would have had to:

• Read nearly 1.25 pages of the bill every minute for 46 hours and 8 minutes,
• Not sleep,
• Not eat,
• Take no bathroom breaks.

After Durbin’s speech last night, DeMint asked him on the floor if he’d read the bill. He did not answer.”

So a few staffers actually read the bill and probably no one understands it. Anyone could do that job. We need term limits.

H/T Instapundit.

— DRJ

34 Responses to “The Unwritten Unread Law”

  1. Good post, DRJ! I agree with you about your unstated opinion on Dick Durbin.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  2. That’s been true for every bill such as this for a long time.

    blah (fb88b3)

  3. Which means, blah, that the problem illustrated by this one bill is systemic. The process is broken.

    By the way, DRJ, if one neither eats nor drinks, bathroom breaks would drop dramatically….

    Steverino (e00589)

  4. As I recalled, the Democrats promised and promised to run Congress a lot better.

    Democrats lied, their integrity died.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  5. Nonsense. It’s clear that the Democrats are running Congress much better.

    It’s much more efficient to pass legislation without reading it. Congress could get a lot more done if the representatives would simply vote on the bills rather than take the time to read what they’re considering.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  6. Omnibus bills such as this ought to be outlawed. No one could read and understand it in the time congress allots itself to vote on them. Bills should be single issue without added amendments or spending that have nothing to do with the original bill. Also, there ought to be a law that an old law be revoked completely when a new law is put on the books. Instead of just amending an existing law, I mean. Look at the tax code with all the little changes but not actually revoking anything previous…

    kimsch (2ce939)

  7. Why do you believe term limits would make this better?

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  8. I get the point DeMint is trying to make, but he can’t read while he eats? And he’s never heard (or experienced) reading in the bathroom? And I don’t know how reading challenged the Senator from South Carolina is, but it doesn’t take 48 seconds to read a page…

    And by the way, does DeMint claim that he personally, and not his staff, reads all the legislation that passes through the Senate?

    stevesturm (d3e296)

  9. Theater. They have all read their 2,224(?) earmarks.

    nk (6061ba)

  10. I don’t think this bill is that complicated and requires much reading, as I understand it to be.

    The basics of the budget this year are that to get to the President’s Budget numbers, and at the same time include the spending for earmark pork, the budget has an across-the-board cut in all government agencies that generates the savings necessary to pay for the pork.

    How hard is that to understand? Tell the gov’t agencies to do the same work with fewer resources so as to allow museums and bike paths to be built in the districts and states of the representatives.

    WLS (329473)

  11. Museums and bike paths are the least of it. How about a government office relocated from downtown, where it could be accessed by five bus routes, 12 commuter trains, seven subway/elevated trains, and surrounded by parking garages for those who want to drive, to two miles west where there is no public transportation or parking, because a politically-connected real estate investor could not otherwise unload a property he had unwisely invested in?

    nk (6061ba)

  12. Without a veto-proof majority there’s no way that Democrats can run Congress.

    David Ehrenstein (4ce68d)

  13. How hard is that to understand? Tell the gov’t agencies to do the same work with fewer resources so as to allow museums and bike paths to be built in the districts and states of the representatives.”

    Very true. The Air Force has been saying “Do more with less” for so long now that some are paraphrasing it to “do more with nothing!”

    voiceofreason (6fa337)

  14. Not entirely true, David. They can set the rules for how they conduct their respective Houses’ business. Such as eliminating pork or making it more visible. Instead they created more more pork and made it less visible. Also, if they had the guts and initiative, they could make their own budget instead of adopting the President’s. Article I of the Constitution does require that all money bills originate in the House of Representatives.

    nk (6061ba)

  15. On this one at least they had the excuse that it was longer than 2002 classified NIE before we invaded IRAQ. On that one, they had no excuse.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  16. Perhaps we should have a Sarbanes-Oxley for legislators. In order to vote for any bill they will have to declare under penalty of perjury they have read it and understand its provisions.

    Dave (286371)

  17. Without a veto-proof majority there’s no way that Democrats can run Congress.

    Which ain’t never gonna happen David. Deal with it.

    (Awaiting DE’s frothy-mouthed response in 3, 2, 1…) 😉

    qdpsteve (cd214a)

  18. Without a veto-proof majority there’s no way that Democrats can run Congress.

    The Republican majority in the 104th Congress (1995-97) was also not veto-proof by a long shot, and yet was still able to pass welfare reform, the line item veto, the federal defense of marriage act, securities litigation reform, the Telecom Act, AEDPA etc., etc. In contrast, the Democrats of the 110th Congress have enacted an increase in the minimum wage and lots of pork. Lack of a veto-proof majority can explain only so much.

    JonC (85fd98)

  19. JonC, good points. And yet the Repubslicans gave away their majority in only 12 short years, for a myriad of reasons (including some that even David E. is absolutely correct about).

    It’ll probably cause some heads to explode here– apologies in advance everyone– but maybe the awful truth is that the Republicans, after having wandered in the wilderness so long, simply function better in both houses of Congress as a minority party. Most likely quite the controversial (and to some here, scary; to others such as David, wonderful) proposition. But I think it’s worth pondering and/or discussing.

    qdpsteve (cd214a)

  20. The Republican majority in the 104th Congress (1995-97) was also not veto-proof by a long shot, and yet was still able to pass welfare reform, the line item veto, the federal defense of marriage act, securities litigation reform, the Telecom Act, AEDPA etc., etc.

    Due in part to a savvy Democratic president who understand it is better to share in the credit for the accomplishments.

    The only thing a GOP majority bothered to care about passing from 00-06 when they had a majority and president of their party was tax reform, which in the end they refused to battle to make the cuts permanent.

    voiceofreason (10cce1)

  21. qdpsteve, there’s definitely an inherent tension whenever an (ostensibly) small-government party is put in charge of a very large government. Democrats don’t have that problem: bigger government is their raison d’etre, so when they’re in the majority, they just let ‘er rip. Part of the problem is that, sad to say, the political constituency for limited government is relatively small, and conservative successes have made it even smaller. Ramesh Ponnuru has pointed this out in some recent articles for NR. Reagan was able to win in 1980 on a message of getting the government off the people’s back in part because the tax burden had gotten so out of control. Years of tax cuts later, people don’t feel as much of a government pinch any more. That’s a good thing, of course, but it makes limited government a tougher pitch, and it makes Congressional Republicans more apt to sell out the limited government cause just to keep their seats.

    None of that necessarily leads to the conclusion that Republicans function better in the minority; I think the example of the 104th Congress under Gingrich is a good counter-point to that claim. But it does mean that when Republicans are in the majority, they are at greater risk of mission creep.

    JonC (85fd98)

  22. Due in part to a savvy Democratic president who underst[ood] it is better to share in the credit for the accomplishments.

    So where are the Democratic bills that the less savvy (by implication) President Bush can sign in order to share political credit for their passage? Why are the Pelosi Democrats not able to work with Bush in a bipartisan fashion the way the Gingrich Republicans were able to do?

    You’ll get no argument here that the GOP squandered its time in the majority from 2000 forward. But the issue was whether a veto-proof majority is necessary before a Congress facing a president of a different party can advance real legislative accomplishments. Mr. Ehrenstein seems to think it is; the example of the 104th Congress suggests it is not.

    JonC (85fd98)

  23. The last GOP Congress lasted 12 years. Historically, that is probably close to the average. Prior GOP control was 53-54, and 47-48; since the Dems took over in 1930. The anomolies of the Great Depression, and WW-2, allowed the Dems to maintain almost continuous control for 60 years (1930-1994, less the two single events of GOP control noted before).

    If something serious could be done about Gerrymandering at the statehouses, it would be possible to see the House actually reflect the will, and attitudes, of the population at large, instead of having seats controlled by families of politicians in perpetuity.

    It is one of the amusing things of politics that Gerrymandering has made seats of Congresskritters virtually loose-proof, whereas Senate seats are pretty good barameters of public sentiment (hard to Gerrymander those State Lines).

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  24. So where are the Democratic bills that the less savvy (by implication) President Bush can sign in order to share political credit for their passage?

    I like Bush more than most presidents because he stands by his convictions – heck I even supported his immigration bill. He was undercut by his own party; social security reform never occurred and even the immigration bill this past fall. (Two figures to quote from the polls everyone uses; (a) 72% wanted the border enforced and (b) 58% wanted some sort of path to legal status)

    The Democrats really had no bills because the GOP used parliamentary tactics to freeze them out. And now the Dems do the same – circle never ends.

    voiceofreason (6fb228)

  25. The complete text should be read aloud to the members, by the Clerk, before voting. Striking or adding or substituting language shall be read both as the text in the bill, and at least the three sentences before and after the change.

    Should shorten things up considerably (as well as getting the Clerk sent to auctioneer’s school!)

    htom (412a17)

  26. Yes, we definitely need term limits, but unfortunately when the states tried to do it the courts found it unconstitutional. Asking congress to amend the constitution in this regard is laughable. Calling for a constitutional convention would end up having the same people as are in congress officiating and the unintended consequences would be catastrophic for our country. We are doomed; doomed I say.

    amr (c36902)

  27. And I don’t know how reading challenged the Senator from South Carolina is, but it doesn’t take 48 seconds to read a page…

    Well thanks, Evelyn Wood. It might take longer if one actually, you know, thought about what they were reading. Gave it some critical analysis. Maybe, just maybe, researched the material.

    And a bunch of geriatric congresscritters who’ve been up for the past 44 hours without sleep food or bladder relief may not be in the best condition to represent their constituents.

    Not that these ones are when they’re daisy-fresh, but that’s a different issue.

    And if DeMint is reading challenged, does that make Durbin deaf, dishonest, or just your garden variety hypocrite for not answering the question?

    Uncle Pinky (3c2c13)

  28. Durbin is just one of Harry’s attack dogs. Anytime they need someone to go demagogue an issue, you are sure to find Durbin or Schumer.

    JD (eadb61)

  29. AMR, i’ll ask you the same question I asked above: why do you think this particular problem would be resolved by term limits?

    Has the presence of term limits in state legislatures reduced the problem of unreadable legislation there?

    aphrael (db0b5a)

  30. aphrael – Durbin would not be in the Senate.

    JD (eadb61)

  31. JD, sure. but i’m not convinced that would solve the problem of legislators not being able to read the laws they are voting on. It would just replace one set of people with another without solving the underlying problem.

    aphrael (db0b5a)

  32. Aphrael: I do not think term limits will stop it any more than California’s term limit laws have stopped the legislature from trying to bankrupt the state. But I do believe that since history has shown that enough people can be bought by politician’s promises to remain in office indefinitely, term limits places a hold on that process. Sometimes, but not always, the new person comes in full of piss and vinegar and will upset the system enough to awaken some people. That new legislator may just read the bills or have someone do so on his/her staff, and actually nit-pick it publicly and embarrass the establishment. If one can’t run for office forever, maybe just maybe, they will do what is right rather than what is expedient for reelection. Being in office too long brings out the worst in too many politicians; once they really learn how the system works, they lean how to work the system for personal gain.

    It is hard for anyone to maintain the righteous indignation they bring to a new challenge, since the system has many ways to co-opt the crusader. The most attractive is the reins of power and the perks that accompany that power. But I’d rather cycle through a bunch of new people over time than expect that those now in office will change

    amr (c36902)

  33. aphrael – You are right, when looking at the big picture. In the short term, it would clearly be a net gain to any organisation were they able to remove Durbin.

    JD (eadb61)

  34. Aphrael,

    I think term limits make elected officials more accountable and responsive to their constituents. It’s not a cure-all but if officials have to answer for the laws they pass, they are more likely to read the laws and they may not pass as many laws – which suits me just fine.

    DRJ (09f144)


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