|Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
To read or not to read; that is the question. Far too often, Congress has chosen the latter – at least as it relates to voting on proposed legislation. This year, we have seen repeated examples of voting on and passing legislation that our elected representatives have not read. In some cases, they voted on legislation that had not even made it into a printed form – you couldn’t read it if you wanted to. Faith abounds, it seems – even in politics.
But this is a misplaced faith and a troubling departure from the democratic (small d) principles that have governed our legislative processes since the founding of our republic. Instead of “government in the sunshine” (based on the principle that sunlight is the best disinfectant), we get government in the leadership cloakroom (based on the principle of “trust us; we know what is best”).
Even more troubling to our democratic process, has been the propensity of one chamber of Congress or the other to vote for landmark legislation without even holding any hearings. You can’t read the bill; you can’t ask questions in an open hearing; but other than that, feel free to cast a “fully informed” vote!
What can we say about these troubling practices? At least this: They are unwise, unfaithful, and undependable.
Most acknowledge that this “See No Evil” approach to law-making is not just unwise; it lacks common sense. In the run-up to the August recess, little-known provisions hidden in major pieces of already-passed legislation came to light, with the Congress scrambling to undo their deleterious effects. As a result, we have the “Summer of the Do-Over.”
Just this week, after the break-neck passage of financial reform legislation, banking regulators have come forward arguing that many of the law’s provisions will have decidedly damaging effects on the financial services industry and on average Americans. Perhaps a hearing would have revealed this problem.
It must be said also that this “Blind Trust” approach to law-making is unfaithful. It is a clear abdication of the fiduciary responsibilities that every elected representative agrees to fulfill. At a minimum, every congressman or senator has the duty of due care. They must actively and faithfully participate in the legislative process. If it is too great a burden for some of our law-makers to read and understand legislation before voting on it, perhaps there is a less burdensome career path open to them.
And last, we must say that this “Year of the Sheep” approach to legislation will ultimately be judged undependable as well. The economy seems to rest on a knife’s edge, and the Law of Unintended Consequences is standing in the shadows. What other troublesome and harmful legislative provisions – as yet unrevealed – will soon rear their ugly heads?
Inside-the-Beltway pundits say this election year is shaping up to make incumbents an endangered species. If so, this sentiment is not hard to understand.