“Giving legislators a reasonable opportunity to review a bill before they vote to make it law is the barest of bare minimums, especially now that bills are often coming out of conference in a dramatically new form. But why should only legislators get a chance to look at the bill? … Why not make bills publicly and readily available (and I emphasize ‘readily’) for three days before they can be brought to a vote?
I think this is a great idea. Right now, all the public knows about is what the lobbyists and/or journalists can piece together about bills as they are moving from committee to committee. Why not publish the bills for a few days, so that concerns citizens, public advocacy groups and other interested parties can READ what they may want to voice an OPINION over?
Those of you who know my politics also may be thinking that my celebration of the above idea would move us further away from my thoughts on the importance of a representative democracy (rather than the direct democracy we seem to be moving towards). I disagree.
An effective representative democracy requires that we hold our representatives accountable. It is a widely reported poll statistic that while a large number of people believe congress as a whole is doing a very poor job, they believe their representative is doing an excellent job. These two ideas stand in contrast with each other, but I believe they can be traced to a common cause. Everyday we are barraged by mainstream media with sound bites and bills who seem to have been named by a media relations firm. Some of us try to pay a bit more attention, read between the lines, exercise a critical eye. However, many of us don’t, or don’t have the time.
All of this effort to summarize complex bills in one or two sentences (or even a single bill name, like the No Child Left Behind Act) hides a lot of detail we need to know in order to judge our representative’s effectiveness in promoting his or her constituents ideals and desires. Hearing someone say, “I sponsored the No Child Left Behind Act” sounds wonderful to those of us who believe in public education. Surely, the bill must provide lots of money in order to pay for many of the improvements the bill calls for. If you had read the bill, you’d realize it doesn’t.
If one had read it in advance, you must imagine that someone would have had the foresight to realize that the funding needed to be attached to the bill from the get-go. Hopefully, the people who DID decide to call in to their legislator to support the bill might have had second thoughts had they had a chance to review what the bill really provided. After the bill was passed, the sound bite was obtained; the proverbial feather could be placed in the reelection campaign’s cap. Since the representatives already had what they needed, the funding never came. Now we’re stuck trying to clean up the mess, trying to find the funding necessary to meet all the requirements of the bill.
Information wants to be free…but in any kind of democracy, information HAS to be free in order for it to work properly.