Reading the Bill is a Waste of Time
Bruce Bartlett articulates something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while about the “read the bill” nonsense, and since he did a better job of it than I would have, I’ll just direct you to him:
The 1,990-page length of the health reform bill is once again bringing forth demands that members of Congress be required to read the legislation before voting on it. While a seemingly reasonable demand, it is, in fact, a waste of time.
The reason becomes obvious the moment one actually reads legislative language.
For these reasons, reading an actual bill is a completely useless exercise for the vast majority of members of Congress and staff. They rely heavily on committee reports that are supposed to accompany all bills coming up for a floor vote. These reports are written by committee staff and are required to faithfully reflect the bill’s intent. They may contain important details, clarifications, data, citations to hearings, and supporting materials, such as a section-by-section analysis, that allow the legislation to be intelligible to non-lawyers and other non-experts.
In addition, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have organizations that review all bills coming up for a vote, summarize them and offer political perspectives. Here, for example, is the House Republican Conference report on the health bill. If one’s party holds the White House, a member may find the Statement of Administration Policy to be important in understanding a bill and how to vote on it. Here is the SAP on the health bill. The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis may also be important. Here is its report on the health bill.
Read the whole thing, which is quite illuminating. The bottom line is that the language of a bill is generally technical and may have impacts on various pieces of existing law. If you’re a member of Congress who is not on the appropriate committee or not involved in drafting the legislation, it’s not necessary to read it. The legal language is there to ensure that particular policies get enacted. The important thing is that the members understand the policy, not the technical legal language.