Tags: Supreme Court | Obamacare | House | Senate | reform

Congress Needs Its Own ‘Bill of Rights’

Wednesday, 28 March 2012 12:53 PM Current | Bio | Archive

In light of the more than 2,400 pages in the Obama healthcare bill, (which the Supreme Court is now trudging through more thoughtfully, deliberately and comprehensively than most senators and congressmen who voted for it did), it is time to demand a major change in the rules of drafting and moving legislation for the House and Senate.

In addition, the strong-arm tactics of holding hostage a bill because the amendments added thereto are not germane to the main subject matter must end.

Rep. Michele Bachmann tears one of the more than 2,400 pages from the national healthcare bill at the U.S. Capitol.
(Getty Images)
The fact that either party would stymie a bill with non-subject matter amendments is all about politics and has little if nothing to do with governing.

Is it any wonder why Congress is held in such low esteem by the public when bills are not read because they are too voluminous or unintelligible by the mere mortal — and where amendments are added to bills to get more votes or to kill them?

Now is the time to rethink this whole process, with the following new “Bill of Rights” specifically aimed at moving meaningful legislation through both chambers of Congress:
  1. Bills are limited to no more than 125 pages.
  2. Bills must be written in plain English.
  3. Bills cannot contain any amendment that is not germane to the main subject matter of the bill itself.
  4. Bills must be published online within 24 hours of being referred for committee consideration.
  5. Bills must be published online within 48 hours of any votes being taken on the bill by committee or by the full House or Senate.
  6. Bills must contain a “citations” page, which identifies all persons who had an actual hand in writing the bill, including government and non-government persons; and must identify the section(s) they had a hand in.
  7. Bills must contain a preamble which attests to the constitutionality of the bill, citing the exact constitutional language and section(s) that permit the bill.
  8. No earmarks will be allowed to any bill. As a compromise, the leadership of the House and Senate Republicans and Democrats may offer an annual “Discretionary Spending Bill” which will contain the names of members requesting the expenditure as well as the name of the beneficiary, purpose of the expenditure and amount of money being requested.
  9. Bills will not add to the deficit.
  10. Bills must be funded by current revenues and pay as you go.

Bills must stand and fall based on the subject matter and not on amendments added by members when no one is looking — or in an effort to defeat, or sabotage the bill itself.

Our founding fathers wrote the documents creating the greatest nation the world has ever known using plain English. Although highly educated and talented people, they drafted them in such a way that they could be understood by both the common and cultured members of society.

There is not a doubt in my mind that the average American high school student today can fully understand and appreciate the words and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Amendments thereto, including the Bill of Rights.

The same cannot be said of President Obama’s healthcare bill. You need a doctoral degree in economics and a law degree to fully appreciate the convoluted and highly technical legislation that will affect every single American.

There is no way even the average legislator can fully understand such a highly technical bill — even with the benefit of an extensive staff.

Highly specialized staffers, government lawyers, lobbyists, industry executives and their lawyers and “experts” write these bills. They are purposely written to obscure their true intent, meaning, and effect. In addition, to fully understand and appreciate a bill you must be able to understand and appreciate the various agency rules and regulations that are incorporated by reference — adding thousands of more pages that must be read in conjunction with a particular bill.

If as a legislator, you have not read a bill, how can you vote on it?

If as a legislator, you cannot understand a bill, how can you vote on it?

If the American people cannot understand a bill, how can they support it?

Many States have enacted “plain language” statutes that require consumer contracts to be, “written in a clear and coherent manner using words with common and everyday meanings . . . ” as in the case of NY General Obligations Law Section: 5-702.

It is ironic that the federal government enacted the “Truth in Lending Act” which requires certain disclosures be made to consumers, yet there is no requirement for such disclosures to be written in “plain language”

Our Constitution starts out with, “We the People” not “We the elite,” or “We the Legislators.” People need to understand what their government is doing on their behalf.

The only way to insure our legislators are engaged and leading us as opposed to being led by others who are not responsible to the people is to streamline the process so they can do their jobs effectively.

The only way to insure a more informed and engaged public is to provide them with information they can understand.

The only way to make our government more responsible and responsive to the needs of the people is to adhere to a process that keeps government disciplined, focused, fair and understandable.

The aforementioned rules are not political at all. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The rules I have set forth are favorable to both Republicans and Democrats. There is no way either party can gain an unfair advantage over the other.

Perhaps that will be the very reason they would not be enacted.

The gridlock we have witnessed with the budget had more do to with non-germane amendments to the bill than the bill itself. These time wasting political shenanigans have infuriated Americans of all political stripes.

Let’s face it, citizens are fed up. They are faced everyday with the tough task of just making ends meet. We are plagued by high unemployment, a continuing housing crisis, soaring gas prices, inflation, government debt and war.

We are desperate to have our government officials help us change our condition for the better and not to make matters worse.

Now is the time for all good persons to come to the aid of their country. We need to get back to basics and permit government to function as the founding fathers intended.

Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion. Read more reports from Bradley Blakeman — Click Here Now.

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Wednesday, 28 March 2012 12:53 PM
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