SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
I was on NPR’s On The Media on Saturday to talk about conservative critics of the Obama administration’s health care reform bill who are arguing that legislation is being rushed through and demanding that lawmakers “read the bill.” There are plenty of reasons to criticize the administration’s “reform” effort, but this is a pretty silly objection (and not only because there is still no official bill to read).
First off, huge pieces of legislation are routinely passed by Congress that no one has read, other than perhaps for the few staffers that put them together. That might not be a good thing– though anyone who has ever tried to read a major bill knows you can’t get beyond the first few pages without nodding off– but this wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. As I wrote in Harper’s in 2005 about one mammoth appropriations bill that contained $16 billion in earmarks, making it (until then) the biggest single piece of pork-barrel legislation in American history:
Teams of staffers labored long into the night to edit the various bills that would be folded in, after which the mass of pages was fed through copier machines across Capitol Hill. There was no time to produce a clean copy, so the version of the omnibus bill that Congress voted on was a fourteen-inch-thick clump of papers with corrections, deletions, and additions on virtually every page. Handwritten notes peppered the margins; typefaces varied from section to section and from paragraph to paragraph. First made available to lawmakers at around 12:15 A.M. on November 20 (and only to those who happened to be browsing the House Rules Committee website, where it was posted), the omnibus bill came to a vote before the full House some sixteen hours later, at approximately 4:00 that afternoon, and before the Senate at 8:42 that evening. For the legislators who approved it—by a margin of 344?51 in the House and 65?30 in the Senate—reading the 3,320-page bill before the vote would have been a mathematical impossibility.
If members of Congress were required to read every bill they voted on, the business of Washington would grind to a halt. (OK, so maybe that should be a requirement).
Beyond that, any health reform bill that comes to a vote will have been debated by five congressional committees. No one will have read it, but that doesn’t mean that it will not be discussed by Congress, nor that the key provisions won’t have been analyzed by the media and advocacy groups.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:
Cari Beauchamp, Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood, Charles Scribner's Sons (N.Y.C.)
Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.
Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”