Reading the Laws Congress Makes

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Sept. 23 editorial "Read This!," highlighting problems with the "read the bill" movement aimed at Congress, missed the main point. The idea that lawmakers shouldn't vote on a bill unless they've read every word of it is ridiculous not because it is impractical but because it would not achieve the goal of more knowledgeable decision-making. "Reading the bill" and "understanding what the bill might do" are entirely different.

Anyone who has read a bill knows that the wording is often incomprehensible when considered out of context. This little ditty from one of the health bills -- "Section 2743 of the Public Health Service Act is amended in its heading by inserting 'and continuation in force, including prohibition of rescission,' after 'guaranteed renewability' " -- means nothing to most of us. But the impact of those words on insurers and the rescission of health-care coverage is pretty important.

Members of Congress and their staffs should spend less time reading arcane language and more seeking to understand its impact on their constituents. Such understanding does not come from hunkering down with a bunch of text but from having discussions with many people, at town hall meetings, at citizen rallies, at congressional hearings and even (gasp!) meetings with lobbyists.




I agree with the editorial's concluding assertion: "Narrative or no, it's reasonable to expect adequate time to consider bills' final language."

My main concern is the hidden assumption that there is some justification for trying to rewrite the laws of this nation at such a frantic rate that a reasonably competent reader just can't keep up.

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