Congressional Oversight for Some, Miniature American Flags for Others


In April, 327 members of the House of Representatives voted for a classified intelligence bill, thereby authorizing some of the administration's anti-terrorism measures. 96 voted against it. And according to The Boston Globe, approximately a dozen representatives read it:

Nearly all members of the House of Representatives opted out of a chance to read this year's classified intelligence bill, and then voted on secret provisions they knew almost nothing about…

Only about a dozen House members scheduled time this year to read the classified sections of the intelligence bill, according to a House Intelligence Committee spokesman. The estimate dovetailed with a Globe survey sent to all members of the House, in which the vast majority of the respondents—including eight out of 10 in the Massachusetts delegation—said they typically don't read the classified parts of intelligence bills.

Representatives who plan to read classified provisions must promise not to debate or discuss them in the absence of White House authorization—even if leaks later reveal the information to the public. Representatives either didn't want to strike that deal, didn't want to take the time to read the bill without help from staffers, or—in the words of one anonymous legislator—"did not even know lawmakers were allowed to read the classified sections of the bills."

Whole thing here.

NEXT: A Fine Meth We're In

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. This sounds like the concept of plausible gullibility.

  2. We elect these people, and we don’t read the bills. If we held our representatives to a higher standard, or expected them to actually read the legislation they vote on, we would be hypocrites. As long as our representatives don’t get accused of being unpatriotic, we should continue to put them into office.

  3. “It’s a trap,” said Representative Russ Carnahan, Democrat of Missouri, referring to the rule that members must refrain from discussing items in the bill. “Either way, you’re flying blind.”

    I’d sure like to know how our system degenerated into this.

    Although I shouldn’t be surprised. Every large and mid-sized business I’ve worked in has degenerated into the same m.o. There’s a certain momentum that carries most systems long after their usefulness has peaked.

  4. The first rule of passing legislation is do not talk about the legislation.

    The second rule of passing legislation is DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE LEGISLATTION.

    How long before every unpopular or controversial bit of legislation is designated classified?

    “Gee abortion is illegal now? When did that happen– I think I probably would have remembered that debate. Oh well, what’s done is done.”

  5. That’s our legislators, earning their $165k a year to make crucial decisions about our country.

  6. Hey, come on now, how is it supposed to stay secret if the whole Congress knows it?

  7. If Congress really wants to read and debate these bills, why don’t they ammend the law to allow themselves to do so?

  8. You mean, there actually are some (at least 12, apparently) congressmen who CAN read?

  9. “If we held our representatives to a higher standard, or expected them to actually read the legislation they vote on, we would be hypocrites. ”

    Are you kidding? We are a Republic not a Democracy. Our representatives are elected to do our work, part of that work is to fully understanding what they are voting on. We expect them to do the work for us. That is not being a hypocrite, that’s the way the system works. We should hold them to a higher standard.

    Besides, we the people, are not be allowed to read anything classified, or it wouldn’t be classified.

    It’s Congress not doing its job!

  10. That’s how the system works now. They vote on a title page; the lobbyists and staffers wrangle the details ad hoc, at some later date.

    They can’t be expected to actually know and understand what’s in the Bills they pass. They’re too busy working to defend the priveleges of incumbency and raise money for their re-election campaigns.

    Guillotine the bastards.

  11. “plausible gullibility”


    Is that Bush’s new excuse for going to Iraq?

  12. dirigible has the right of it: since when does Congress need “White House Authorization” to discuss the commands they are going to give to the White House? Which one is the “legislative branch” again? You know, I get pretty worked up about Executive Branch power grabs but I’m starting to think it’s more a matter of the Legislative Branch being too fucking lazy to do its job.

  13. Could we possibly elect a less responsible bunch of crud than currently inhabiting our House of Representatives? Throw ’em all out and eliminate the rubber stamp for Bush’s power grab. It’d be a good start.

  14. I think the system in Red China has two fundamentals: (a) All laws are state secrects
    (b) ignorance of the law is no excuse.

    Looks like we’re heading that way in the USA.

  15. Secret provisions? I don’t understand. Should I understand?

  16. Gene Berkman,

    Damn straight! I mean, I always thought that if a random citizen wanted to read every single law on the books, they could (though it would probably take several lifetimes to do so), which was the justification for ignorance of the law being no excuse. But if some laws are secret, that totally undermines this already unrealistic doctrine.

  17. ok – we know that two of a dozen who read this bill voted against it. – wonder about the other 10?

  18. Meh, we all know that our congressmen don’t read most of what they vote for anyway.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.