Fools Rush In


In a piece about the omnibus appropriations bill back in November, I suggested that one factor driving wasteful legislation is the speed with which bills are passed, not only foreclosing debate but rendering it effectively impossible for most legislators to have even read the laws they're voting on in any detail.

Now Matt Yglesias has posted a handy-dandy chart from Rep. Louise Slaughter's report on procedural abuses by House Republicans [PDF] showing just how little consideration time some major legislation gets:


I'll repeat the suggestion I made in the November piece: We need a cooling-off period, maybe a week, between the time legislaton's introduced and the earliest date it can be voted on.

UPDATE: Commenter Chris Monnier notes that the group Downsize DC is lobbying for legislation to do just that.

NEXT: The Living Encyclopedia

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  1. Yeah, because I’m sure the congressfolk would read that tripe if they only had more time.

  2. Bob Shoots!
    Bob Scores!!!!!!

  3. They’d have their staff read it, and highlight the parts that are worth fighting about. Then they’d debate them on the floor. Like they did for 60 years, until the Delay/Hastert House.

  4. They wouldn’t read it, but other people might have a chance to read it and put pressure on them.

  5. The issue with a cooling off period is that it assumes that independent thought is a worthy goal. Bills come out of committee, and the party tells the congressfolk how to vote. The current system places party solidarity above all else, and as a consequence empowers the party leaders. Why, would they mess that up by encouraging debate, and independent thought? Next thing you know senators and congressman might start representing their states first, and the letter after their name second. That can’t happen.

  6. I think all the words of every bill need to be read outloud before the bill can be voted on.

    I wouldn’t improve the quality, but it might impact the quantity….

  7. 8 bills averaging about 1,000 pages of undoubtably nearly unreadable legalese/bureaucratese. I suugest that the primary problem is reducing the number and size of the bills. Very few people are capable of reading, digesting and understanding this volume of crap in any reasonable amount of time. Of course, that seems to be part of the point of producing it.

  8. What we need is a rule stating that the text of any bill has to be read aloud (on the house or senate floor) before it can be voted on.

  9. doh, beaten to it

  10. anvilwyrm,

    I like that idea. Even better, have a randomly selected congressperson read it. That would probably solve the term limit issue.

  11. Yeah, congresscritters should be reading these bills, but these are bills that are coming out of a House-Senate committee AFTER both the House and the Senate passed their respective versions.

    This isn’t the time from when the bill was introduced to when it was passed.

    What you are looking or arguing about is the differences between the bill you voted for before it went it to this committee and what’s coming out. And if you have a decent staff, you know what that is ’cause you were involved in the backroom fighting.

  12. How about a law stating that no more laws can be passed unless they are to repeal laws we already have? 🙂

  13. I dunno, I think we’re off base in our criticisms. These bills are presented, sent to committee, discussed, dealt with, proposed privately first, etc. To just assume that, since there’s only X hours between referral from committee to the vote, there’s no discussion is a bit far-feetched to me.

    This isn’t to say they read every single word – of course they don’t. But I doubt it’s as bad as it’s being made out to be.

  14. Jeff, the problem is, the Republicans have been using the conference committee to dramatically change bills that have been adopted by the House and Senate, adding in major provisions that one or both houses voted to strip out, and taking out provisions (or dramatically changing funding levels) from the versions that were passed.

  15. is planning a campaign called “Make Congress read the laws it passes.” More information at:

    Listen to Jim Babka (of describe the campaign to Wisconsin Public Radio’s Ben Merens here:

    If you are between the ages of 12 and 112 you may have already won! Look for the envelope with Ed McMahon’s picture on it. If you’re one of the 535 people selected you will get an all-expenses paid one-year vacation to glorious Washington, D.C. A special lottery will be held to see who gets to be a United States Senator!

    All current members of the House and Senate are hereby ordered to return home for retraining so they can eventually get an Actual Job.

  17. Chris Monier,

    The likely outcome would be to replace 1100 page bills doling out money to specific projects, with 2 page bills directed an agency to dole out the same amount of money, and choose which projects. Maybe the bill would establish criteria for choosing the projects.

    Would this be a good thing?

  18. Except for Ron Paul. He can stay.

  19. It’s not enough to have a bill read on the floor. A quorum should be on the floor to *hear* the bill at all times. That should kill the omnibus method of passing bills.

  20. To joe’s question, “Would this be a good thing?”

    Good point, I don’t know. But seems those two-page bills would be necessarily vague, leaving all kinds of room for legal challenges over issues like agency discretion and such. This could tie them up in court for years which, while far from an ideal solution, would at least be another hurdle to overcome. Anything that might add some obstacles seems like a good start to me.

    What I’d really love to see is a constitutional amendment that would require a 2/3’s vote to pass any legislation at all (yes, I know I’m only dreaming). And maybe, along the lines of Lowdog’s point, we could add a provision that would allow only a 1/3 vote to remove any section of the U.S. Code. This has the added benefit that congress might stumble upon legislation with exactly 2/3 support and they could get stuck in an endless cycle of passing and repealing it forever.

    Ok, back to reality now…

  21. Forget reality, we can dream…

    – Every Congressman must pass a quiz on the bill (including extra provisions put in, etc.) before being allowed to vote on it. Their staff can help them study, but they have to know what they’re voting for.
    – Mandatory 2-month waiting period before passing a bill that’s intended to address a tragedy. 3 months if the bill is named after the victim.
    – All bills that involve amending existing law must include a copy of the existing law with the appropriate strike-throughs and underlines to show the impact of the changes. (that’s for us reading it as well)
    – And, of course, the automatic one-year sunset of all laws.

  22. Like they did for 60 years, until the Delay/Hastert House.

    I honestly can never tell when joe is being intentionally funny.

  23. [We need a cooling-off period, maybe a week, between the time legislaton’s introduced and the earliest date it can be voted on.]

    How about an hour per page?

  24. RC, find the Boston Globe piece on the novel uses of leadership authority in the current Congress.

  25. Pete,

    I would definitely support a universal sunset law — though it would require a constitutional ammendment to keep legislators from exempting future bills from the sunset.

    But one year is a bit too short; perhaps four or five years would be appropriate. I know, once the LP has control of both houses and Federal law covers nothing but the areas explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, it won’t be an issue. But till then, businesses and individuals need to be relatively sure that most current laws will still be in effect in two years or so…

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