November 30, 2009
In anticipation of Senate Democrats' introduction of an $849 billion dollar plan to overhaul the nation's health care system, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn last week announced his intention to press for a full reading of the 2,074 page bill on the floor of the Senate, a process estimated to require between 34 and 54 hours to complete. Not surprisingly, Coburn's effort to fulfill President Obama's pledge of transparency and accountability—a pledge Mr. Obama himself seems to have abandoned at this point—has been scuttled.
Critics of Coburn's move cited the Senate's longstanding tradition of waiving, without objection, the reading of bills on the floor before a vote. The notion that America's elected representatives might have an ethical responsibility to actually read legislation before casting their votes was met last week with incredulity:
"Believe it or not, they are going to require us... to stand up for 50 hours and read that bill on the floor," said Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico. "The normal thing we do to get to something is we waive the reading. But they are going to require it... I cannot understand that."
Believe it or not, America. Believe it or not—against all reason or logic—Senator Coburn believes that Congress should read legislation BEFORE they vote it into law. The nerve! The audacity! If you aren't offended by such presumption, well, you should be! After all, everyone knows that Senators have more important things to do than, well, the job they were elected to do.
Let's see if we can follow this chain of senatorial logic...
Congressmen are elected to represent the people of their state and/or district. The responsibilities of the office of Representative or Senator are numerous and weighty, and thus, America's representatives are very, very busy. They are busy tending to the people's business. They are busy spending the people's money. They are busy, in Senator Udall's words, "getting to things." And in order to "get there," they must forgo the luxury of educating themselves on the specifics of what they are "getting." Is anyone's head spinning yet?
This irresponsible attitude is an alarming indicator of the decadent state of American government. Our elected officials are making laws that they don't read, laws that the rest of us are bound by the Constitution to observe and obey. They admit as much; and what's worse, they respond with indignation when confronted with their gross dereliction of duty.
In this case, Senate Democrats are busy "getting to" a massive reorganization of America's health care system, which currently accounts for an estimated 17.6 percent of the U.S. economy. The American people have been told that our nation's health care system is teetering on the brink of crisis. Costs are skyrocketing, tens-of-millions are uninsured, and millions more are "underinsured." And, of course, the only way to avoid total collapse is to allow the government to step in and fix the problem—as it's done so successfully with Social Security and Medicare!
No, Congress does not plan to read the bill. No, House and Senate leaders will not address the constitutionality of their actions. What Congress will do is thumb their noses at town hall protesters and tea party activists who want to know what's being done to the country they love; what's being done to their freedom. They will question the patriotism of those who question the wisdom of their arguments and the prudence of their actions.
This is the same Congress that had a direct hand in the sub-prime mortgage crisis, only to feign surprise and betrayal when the bubble burst and the housing market collapsed. This is the same Congress that huffed and puffed about the evils of capitalism and the rot of corporate greed, only to collude in a midnight legislative session paving the way for backdoor bonuses to the same fat cat executives receiving taxpayer "bailout" funds.
Yet Senator Udall and his buddies in the Senate don't understand why cries of "Read the bill!!" are echoing all across the country. He can't understand why some Americans might balk at the idea of coughing up $849 billion to overhaul one fifth of the economy when they know that their representatives have no intention of reading the bill—a bill that will impact the lives of every American, plunge this nation into staggering debt, and forever alter the balance of power between the government and the people.
With stakes this high, if our representatives can't find the time or energy to read the bill, it seems the least they could do is pull up a chair and listen.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of "Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty" He is also Chairman of the Center for a Just Society. For more articles and resources from Mr. Connor and the Center for a Just Society, go to http://centerforajustsociety.org