Today’s legislative bills are incredibly long, complex, and require an immense amount of time, energy, money, and resources to actually get passed.
Over time, bills have gone from an average of 2.5 pages in 1947-8 to 17.9 pages in 2013-14. True, 17.9 pages doesn’t seem that long, but that average is offset by many small bills that serve as outliers, thus bringing down the average. In any case, we’re seeing more 1000+ page bills than ever and the time senate and house members are given to read those bills is staying short, complicating things even further.
For example, NPR reported in an article, “After the George W. Bush White House passed its prescription-drug plan, for example, one Republican lawmaker told 60 Minutes that members of Congress weren’t given enough time to understand the legislation. ‘The bill was over 1,000 pages,’ North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones said. ‘And it got to the members of the House that morning, and we voted for it at about 3 a.m. in the morning.’”
We all know those legislators couldn’t read those bills in that short amount of time (even if they wanted to). But how can we be okay with them voting on something they haven’t read? Well, that’s what Senate and house committees are for. They’re made up of members of the house and senate who each specialize in a certain area of legislation (e.g. education, healthcare). Their job is to dive into their respective part bill, really understand it, debate it, clarify it, etc. Then they write up a “report” of the bill and pass it back to the house or senate. Those who aren’t on the committee are then supposed to read and digest those reports and vote on the bill.
What’s interesting though is that although bills are getting longer and more complex, there are increasingly less house and senate committees. The graph below shows the number of committees since 1995.
So, if the legislators aren’t reading the 1000+ page bills (which are typically the ones that will have the most impact on most people), and there are fewer committees to summarize those bills for everyone voting, are we even sure members of the house and senate even know what they’re voting on?
That is precisely why we believe that all bills should have to be under 10 pages. There can be debate over ambiguities and time for clarification/specification, but the actual bill itself, the thing that should be required to be read by each legislator, shouldn’t be longer than a grade-school report. This way, less time, money, and resources are spent deciphering these monstrous pieces of legislation, and more time, money, and resources are spent on the things that actually matter for the American people.
Featured image from Flickr