June 17, 2008
Is the "Read the Bills Act" Practical?
By James Wilson
Today's Downsizer-Dispatch . . . QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"You are at work, and someone hands you a draft report you are required to sign your name to and pass up the chain of command. What happens to you if you sign it and hand it to the next guy, but after it is implemented you find out that it has obvious errors, or worse includes payment of company funds to someone who has done nothing to deserve it? I'm guessing you get fired and have to think about how to phrase the departure on your resume."
-- Anthony, "the view from my windscreen"

SUBJECT: Is the "Read the Bills Act" Practical?

As we noted in our June 5 Dispatch, the "Climate Security Act" was actually read in the Senate chamber -- 500+ pages in ten hours. Also, on one April day, the Florida House of Representatives had 398 pages pages of legislation read aloud.

Both times, the minority party insisted the bills be read as a form of protest. But there's something revealing here about the practicality of the "Read the Bills Act" (RTBA).

Imagine if RTBA was in force, and stipulate the following . . .
  • It normally takes one hour to read a forty-page bill.
  • Each member of Congress has a copy of the bill, a high-lighter, a pen, and a notebook to jot down their questions and objections. 
  • And let's also grant four hours for debate and votes on amendments for every one hour of reading. That's five hours to finalize a forty-page bill.
This would leave plenty of time for meetings, final votes on bills from the previous week, and other business. That evening, Congressional clerks could post the bill on the Internet. Interested citizens could read it and contact their representatives with feedback. Seven days later, Congress could vote.

Assuming Congress meets for 200 days a year, the above scenario would allow them to pass 8,000 pages of legislation quite easily.

Keep in mind, we at Downsize DC don't want Congress to pass this much legislation. But, contrary to what some in Congress claim, they could still pass a lot of laws under the "Read the Bills Act." Indeed, the changes to the process would be all for the better . . .

  • There would be increased pressure on Congressional committees to write short, understandable bills. For instance, large Cabinet Departments wouldn't need to be funded in one bill; separate agencies could be funded in separate bills
  • Many bills are uncontroversial and wouldn't need much debate; even so, reading them aloud would allow Congress to spot errors
  • Peer pressure would limit the addition of amendments on unrelated subjects
  • Members of Congress (and the public) would have the chance to expose and remove wasteful and unwanted earmarks 
  • And the same could be done with other hidden, dangerous, and harmful provisions 
  • Urgent, high-priority bills would come first
Please tell your Representative and Senators to introduce the Read the Bills Act.

In your personal comments, tell them that the RTBA gives Congress plenty of time to pass needed legislation -- perhaps as much as 8,000 pages a year, plus the bills would be simpler, cleaner, and better than they are now. You send your message here.

In addition, we invite you to help spread the word about RTBA by joining the "Read the Bills Act Coalition." You help spread the word about the RTBA, and we'll spread the word about you, linking to your site on our blog. Details are here.

This week, we welcome four new members to the Coalition.

Intellectual Splatter
Debt Sucks
Call of God
Spotlight Radio

Over the past two weeks the House passed 35 bills totaling 503 pages, and the Senate passed 7 bills amounting to 1863 pages. A list of their bills, and their length, can be found in the blog version of this Dispatch.

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James Wilson
Assistant to the President The following are the bills the House and Senate passed last week. The bills were passed by voice vote except where indicated. Roll call votes for the House are found here, and for the Senate here. The descriptions of bills are essentially taken verbatim from the Congressional Record Daily Digest. Page numbers of bills are based on the pdf display of the latest version from the Government Printing Office. HOUSE 35 bills, 503 pages Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Post Office Designation Act: H.R. 1734, to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 630 Northeast Killingsworth Avenue in Portland, Oregon, as the ``Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Post Office''; 1 page Chi Mui Post Office Building Designation Act: H.R. 5477, to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 120 South Del Mar Avenue in San Gabriel, California, as the ``Chi Mui Post Office Building''; 1 page Senior Executive Service Diversity Assurance Act: H.R. 3774, amended, to provide for greater diversity within, and to improve policy direction and oversight of, the Senior Executive Service; 14 pages Telework Improvements Act of 2008: H.R. 4106, amended, to improve teleworking in executive agencies by developing a telework program that allows employees to telework at least 20 percent of the hours worked in every 2 administrative workweeks; 20 pages Federal Food Donation Act of 2008: S. 2420, to encourage the donation of excess food to nonprofit organizations that provide assistance to food-insecure people in the United States in contracts entered into by executive agencies for the provision, service, or sale of food--clearing the measure for the President; 6 pages Federal Agency Data Protection Act: H.R. 4791, amended, to amend title 44, United States Code, to D678strengthen requirements for ensuring the effectiveness of information security controls over information resources that support Federal operations and assets. 18 pages James M. & Thomas W.L. Ashley Customs Building and United States Courthouse Designation Act: H.R. 3712, amended, to designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 1716 Spielbusch Avenue in Toledo, Ohio, as the ``James M. & Thomas W.L. Ashley Customs Building and United States Courthouse''; 1 page Thomas Jefferson Census Bureau Headquarters Building Designation Act: H.R. 5599, to designate the Federal building located at 4600 Silver Hill Road in Suitland, Maryland, as the ``Thomas Jefferson Census Bureau Headquarters Building''; 1 page Poison Center Support, Enhancement, and Awareness Act of 2008: H.R. 5669, to amend the Public Health Service Act to reauthorize the poison center national toll-free number, national media campaign, and grant program to provide assistance for poison prevention, sustain the funding of poison centers, and enhance the public health of people of the United States, by a \2/3\ yea-and-nay vote of 405 yeas to 10 nays, Roll No. 373; 14 pages Library of Congress Sound Recording and Film Preservation Programs Reauthorization Act of D6862008: H.R. 5893, amended, to reauthorize the sound recording and film preservation programs of the Library of Congress; 8 pages United States Capitol Police Administrative Technical Corrections Act of 2008: H.R. 5972, amended, to make technical corrections to the laws affecting certain administrative authorities of the United States Capitol Police; 20 pages 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act: The House passed H.R. 3021, to direct the Secretary of Education to make grants and low-interest loans to local educational agencies for the construction, modernization, or repair of public kindergarten, elementary, and secondary educational facilities, by a yea-and-nay vote of 250 yeas to 164 nays, Roll No. 379. 22 pages National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2008: H.R. 5940, amended, to authorize activities for support of nanotechnology research and development, by a \2/3\ yea-and-nay vote of 407 yeas to 6 nays, Roll No. 383. 34 pages Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network Continuing Authorization Act: The House passed H.R. 5540, to amend the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act of 1998 to provide for the continuing authorization of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, by a yea-and-nay vote of 321 yeas to 86 nays, Roll No. 386. 4 pages Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Wilderness Act of 2008: H.R. 3022, amended, to designate the John Krebs Wilderness in the State of California and to add certain land to the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness; 6 pages Sabinoso Wilderness Act of 2008: H.R. 2632, amended, to establish the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in San Miguel County, New Mexico; 5 pages California Desert and Mountain Heritage Act of 2008: H.R. 3682, amended, to designate certain Federal lands in Riverside County, California, as wilderness, to designate certain river segments in Riverside County as a wild, scenic, or recreational river, and to adjust the boundary of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument; 20 pages Kendell Frederick Citizenship Assistance Act: S. 2516, to assist members of the Armed Forces in obtaining United States citizenship--clearing the measure for the President; 4 pages Extending for 5 years the EB-5 regional center pilot program: H.R. 5569, amended, to extend for 5 years the EB-5 regional center pilot program; 4 pages Former Vice President Protection Act of 2008: H.R. 5938, to amend title 18, United States Code, to provide secret service protection to former Vice Presidents; 3 pages Congressional Review Act Improvement Act: H.R. 5593, amended, to amend title 5, United States Code, to make technical amendments to certain provisions of title 5, United States Code, enacted by the Congressional Review Act; 4 pages Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act of 2008: H.R. 5524, amended, to amend the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to authorize appropriations; 20 pages Josh Miller HEARTS Act: H.R. 4926, amended, to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to establish a grant program for automated external defibrillators in schools; 6 pages Government Accountability Office Act of 2008: H.R. 5683, amended, to make certain reforms with respect to the Government Accountability Office; 24 pages District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority Independence Preservation Act: H.R. 5778, amended, to preserve the independence of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority; 6 pages Reforming mutual aid agreements for the National Capital Region: S. 1245, to reform mutual aid agreements for the National Capital Region--clearing the measure for the President. 1 page Merida Initiative to Combat Illicit Narcotics and Reduce Organized Crime Authorization Act of 2008: H.R. 6028, amended, to authorize law enforcement and security assistance, and assistance to enhance the rule of law and strengthen civilian institutions, for Mexico and the countries of Central America, by a \2/3\ yea-and-nay vote of 311 yeas to 106 nays, Roll No. 393; 55 pages Awarding posthumously a Congressional gold medal to Constantino Brumidi: S. 254, to award posthumously a Congressional gold medal to Constantino Brumidi--clearing the measure for the President; 3 pages Edward William Brooke III Congressional Gold Medal Act: S. 682, to award a congressional gold medal to Edward William Brooke III in recognition of his unprecedented and enduring service to our Nation--clearing the measure for the President; 3 pages National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center Commemorative Coin Act: H.R. 3229, amended, to require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the legacy of the United States D716Army Infantry and the establishment of the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center; 6 pages Mother's Day Centennial Commemorative Coin Act: H.R. 2268, amended, to require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the centennial of the establishment of Mother's Day. 7 pages Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008: The House passed H.R. 6003, to reauthorize Amtrak, by a yea-and-nay vote of 311 yeas to 104 nays, Roll No. 400. 132 pages Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act of 2008: H.R. 1553, amended, to amend the Public Health Service Act to advance medical research and treatments into pediatric cancers, ensure patients and families have access to the current treatments and information regarding pediatric cancers, establish a population-based national childhood cancer database, and promote public awareness of pediatric cancers, by a \2/3\ yea-and-nay vote of 416 yeas with none voting ``nay'', Roll No. 409; 10 pages Authorizing the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to accept, as part of a settlement, diesel emission reduction Supplemental Environmental Projects: S. 2146, amended, to authorize the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to accept, as part of a settlement, diesel emission reduction Supplemental Environmental Projects, by a \2/3\ yea-and-nay vote of 406 yeas with none voting ``nay'', Roll No. 413. 4 pages Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 2008: The House passed H.R. 5749, to provide for a program of emergency unemployment compensation, by a yea-and-nay vote of 274 yeas to 137 nays, Roll No. 412. 16 pages SENATE 7 bills, 1863 pages Veterans Mental Health Improvements Act: Senate passed S. 2162, to improve the treatment and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. 60 pages Senate Restaurants Employees: Committee on Rules and Administration was discharged from further consideration of S. 2967, to provide for certain Federal employee benefits to be continued for certain employees of the Senate Restaurants after operations of the Senate Restaurants are contracted to be performed by a private business concern, and the bill was then passed. 20 pages Food, Conservation, and Energy Act: By 77 yeas to 15 nays (Vote No. 144), Senate passed H.R. 6124, to provide for the continuation of agricultural and other programs of the Department of Agriculture through fiscal year 2012, clearing the measure for the President. 1,770 pages Salvaging on the Coast of Florida: Senate passed S. 2482, to repeal the provision of title 46, United States Code, requiring a license for employment in the business of salvaging on the coast of Florida. 4 pages International Center Act Amendment: Senate passed H.R. 3913, to amend the International Center Act to authorize the lease or sublease of certain property described in such Act to an entity other than a foreign government or international organization if certain conditions are met, clearing the measure for the President. 4 pages American Veterans Disabled for Life Commemorative Coin Act: Senate passed H.R. 634, to require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of veterans who became disabled for life while serving in the Armed Forces of the United States, after agreeing to the committee amendment. 4 pages Local Preparedness Acquisition Act: Senate passed H.R. 3179, to amend title 40, United States Code, to authorize the use of Federal supply schedules for the acquisition of law enforcement, security, and certain other related items by State and local governments, clearing the measure for the President. 1 page
Filed under Downsizer Dispatch, RTBA
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