MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA — Does the United States actually have
a representative government?
In theory, the privilege of voting is based on the presumption that
we elect to public office individuals to represent our interests. We
expect those we elect to review, study, understand, and evaluate laws
before voting on them. This duty to represent is a sacred trust, and
failure to fulfill this duty is a breach of that trust.
The question of whether we are a “representative” government
raises two related questions. First, are those we elect representing
us by actually reviewing, studying, evaluating and understanding the
laws on which they vote? Second, if they are not, who is?
Senator Thomas Carper (D–Del.), responding to questions about
the health care legislation in the U.S. Senate, recently said, “I
don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because
reading the legislative language is among the more confusing things
I’ve ever read in my life.” He likened legislative language
He claimed: “When you get into the legislative language, Senator
Conrad actually read some of it, several pages of it, the other day.
I don’t think anybody had a clue — including people who have
served on this committee for decades — what he was talking about.
Legislative language is so arcane, so confusing, refers to other parts
of the code — ‘and after the first syllable insert the
word X’ — and it’s just, it really doesn’t
make much sense. The idea of reading the legislative language: It’s
just anyone who says that they can do that and actually get much out
of it is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.”
Carper said he does not read bills because he cannot understand them;
he just reads summaries instead. This is the norm, not the exception.
It is the case with virtually all the bills Congress considers.
Further major pieces of legislation are introduced by title only or
in outline form, and our representatives vote them into law — before
they are even written or read! The Patriot Act is an example, voted
into law before it was written. So much for deliberative representation.
The Cap and Trade legislation is another.
Thousand-page bills are often brought up for votes without the representatives
having time to read them, let alone study and understand them. The
congressional leadership has aggressively opposed efforts to stop this
practice. These are not insignificant pieces of legislation. The Patriot
Act, for example, has had and will continue to have a profound impact
on our freedom of movement and privacy. The Cap and Trade bill, if
passed by the Senate, will result in the largest effective tax increase
in the history of our country.
Equally disturbing is what such legislation authorizes. These bills
are essentially guidelines. They set out “policy” and delegate
to unelected — and virtually unaccountable — committees and bureaucrats
the unlimited power to impose the rules and regulations implementing
these policies. Bills spawn tens of thousands of additional pages of
interpretations, rules, regulations, and mandates written by faceless
bureaucrats and special interests. By the time the reality of these
bills hits and the public demands corrections and explanations, our
elected officials simply shrug.
There is a saying, “the devil is in the details.” The
shameful truth is that those we elect to know the details acknowledge
they do not even try to understand them.
We do not have a representative government in
America today. Laws
are written in unintelligible code by anonymous special interests,
and our representatives shield these interests’ schemes. The
officials do not represent those who elect them; they do not do their
job; they do not even try. Instead, they blindly vote for what they
have not read, what they do not understand, and what they have no interest
Declaring legislation to be “arcane, or gibberish, or unintelligible” is
unacceptable. Congressmen have a responsibility to demand clear, concise,
understandable legislation and to reject anything that does not meet
Anyone unable or unwilling to read and understand every word prior
to voting should leave or be removed from office. Anything else is
a disgrace to the country.
A Voice from Fly-Over
A Voice from Fly-Over Country is copyright © 2009 by Robert
L. Hale and the Fitzgerald Griffin
All rights reserved.
Robert L. Hale received his J.D. in law from Gonzaga University Law
School in Spokane, Washington. He is founder and director of a non-profit
public interest law firm. For more than three decades he has been involved
in drafting proposed laws and counseling elected officials in ways
to remove burdensome and unnecessary rules and regulations.
See a complete biographical sketch.
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