It is no secret that our lawmakers don’t read many of the bills that they sign. It really angers me that they do so on major issues, but doing it at all should upset all Americans. The public’s lack of engagement with the political process is a major concern of mine going forward, but I feel with the focus on health care lately, we should take advantage of the publics interest now. The public needs to be made aware that our elected officials sign bills into law that affect their lives frequently, oftentimes without reading them.
Do you remember the outrage over employee bonuses from the stimulus package? Well, that was in there.
The stimulus bill, for example, was 1,100 pages long and made available to Congress and the public just 13 hours before lawmakers voted on it. The bill has failed to provide the promised help to the job market, and there was outrage when it was discovered that the legislation included an amendment allowing American International Group, a bailout recipient, to give out millions in employee bonuses.
Here are a couple examples demonstrating the fact that our leaders are not reading what they sign.
» House energy and global warming bill, passed June 26, 2009. 1,200 pages. Available online 15 hours before vote.
» $789 billion stimulus bill, passed Feb. 14, 2009. 1,100 pages. Available online 13 hours before debate.
» $700 billion financial sector rescue package, passed Oct. 3, 2008. 169 pages. Available online 29 hours before vote.
» USA Patriot domestic surveillance bill, passed Oct. 23, 2001. Unavailable to the public before debate.
What really angers me is that the political parties use this tactic as a means to gain power or leverage. The Republicans did it with the Patriot Act, and now it is the Democrats who are strongly opposing transparency. While both sides are failing us spectacularly, it’s a disgrace and the fact that they don’t want the public to be able to read bills before they are passed both goes against Obama’s claims of supporting transparency in government and our leader’s civic duty.
While I don’t expect our leaders to be able to fully understand every law-simply not possible as they are written in “lawyerese”…and have you ever talked with your representative? They are unlikely to be the most intelligent person you have ever met-I think that opening them up to the public is what needs to be done. The public is likely to be apathetic at large, and the various media outlets will spin the information towards their political leanings, but the information would be out there for intelligent people to debate. That is the most important thing. We have the means to create an informed populace, and that can only benefit everyone.
Remember when Obama said this:
Mr. Obama promised that he, “…will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.” Just to make sure we understood him, Mr. Obama repeated in many of his campaign speeches, “When there’s a bill that ends up on my desk as president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing.”
Here is what he did:
The first two bills he signed were not posted on the White House website for five days (both were signed within two days of hitting his desk). In late May, Mr. Obama signed four bills in four days, the day after each arrived on his desk. You could argue that the Recovery Act/stimulus bill was an “emergency” (I wouldn’t) but Mr. Obama signed the Recovery Act less than 18 hours after the bill was finalized and well before almost any member of Congress, let alone the public , had read the Bill.
We deserve better.