Skip to main content

Citizens should be able to read legislation

The health care bill on capitol hill
The health care bill on capitol hill

What do the cap and trade bill, the health care bill, and the USA Patriot Act have in common?  If you said poorly conceived or uncreative you're right, but that is not what this article is about.  Today, I want to address their unreasonable length.

To be clear, when I complain about long bills, it is not because reading them is inconvenient or too time consuming (although it is).  Instead, the length of these bills (and so many others that Congress regularly considers) is a barrier to democracy.

This is for two primary reasons.  First, it means that most of Congress won't read them.  Although it is despicable that they would vote on a bill without fully understanding it, this is a regular occurance on Capitol Hill.  This means they have to rely on staff, the party leadership, analysts, or worst of all lobbyists to tell them what the bill says.

All of these groups have an agenda and if they are given the ability to explain bills to legislators, then they have ultimate power over the functioning of this country.

Yet this is not the worst of it.  The long bills restrict democracy even further by preventing everyday citizens from reading and understanding them.  The heart of democracy is the ability of citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for how they vote.  But this is impossible if bills are too lengthy to read.

If citizens can't read bills, they can't analyze them.  If they can't analyze them, they can't evaluate them.  And if they can't evaluate them, they can't evaluate their representative's vote on them and re-elect or boot them accordingly.

In fact, while lobbyists provide information (or misinformation) to members of Congress in regards to bills, it is the media that fills this role for everyday citizens.  This means that rather than holding their representatives accountable based on the actual content and effect of bills, they complain about "death panels" and "government conspiracies" giving Congress an excuse to ignore them and allowing elections to be decided by talking points and misinformation rather than reason and truth.

Fortunately, this major threat to our democracy has a simple solution.  Pass a law (or better yet a constitutional amendment) that forbids any bill from exceeding 1 page and guaranteeing that the font is at least 12 points.  This will allow each bill to be read and understood by both citizens and legislators and allow the former to keep the latter honest.