Rand Paul’s Read the Bills Act Relies on Congress to Tell the Truth

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So…Congress has done almost nothing since 2009. The 113th Congress was pathetically ineffective and barely more popular than the Black Death. The 114th Congress promises to outdo the last.

But Rand Paul thinks he has an idea that will make Congress more effective, and he “unveiled” it as an unofficial response to Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Nobody is jumping all over it, and you have to ask yourself why. Let’s take a look at that question.

Does Paul suggest that Congress work longer hours? No. That would be silly, wouldn’t it? Does he suggest they actually work while they’re in DC instead of suing Obama and trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act? No! Don’t be absurd. Well, surely he thinks they should stop pursuing phony scandals and wasteful hearings! I laugh that you should have such strange notions.


“I propose a waiting period. Let’s have them wait 20 days for every page — that would keep them busy for a while,” he said back in 2010.

No, it’s not a new idea. It’s a re-used idea. C’mon! He’s a Republican. He doesn’t have any new ideas. The “Read the Bills Act” (RTBA) actually dates from 2006, via a nonprofit called Downsize DC. Paul sponsored the bill in the 112th Congress as S.3360 in 2012.

The House version of the bill, H.R. 1831, was introduced into the 113th Congress by Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) on May 6, 2013. Paul’s version of the bill was not enacted by the 112th Congress and was re-introduced in the 113th Congress as S. 1665 where it was not enacted, and is now listed as having “died in a previous Congress.”

Paul’s bill is/was/is going to be? “To preserve the constitutional authority of Congress and ensure accountability and transparency in legislation.” It obviously has a not more than reading the bill going on in is 16 pages, and I’m personally all for accountability and transparency and for having Congress read the bills they vote on, preferably before they vote on them.

Here is the problem Paul points to under Sec. 3. Findings:

(9) Under the current rules of the Senate, the Senate has departed from its original practice of a full first and second reading of each bill, and of ensuring that each Senator has a printed or other verbatim copy of each bill before passage thereof, having by rule XIV of the Standing Rules of the Senate limited each reading of a bill to the reading of the title of the bill only, unless the Senate in any case shall otherwise order.

(10) Under the current rules of the House of Representatives, the House of Representatives has by rule XVI (8) and rule XVIII (5) embraced its original practice of full first and second readings of each bill, but has regularly departed from this practice by unanimous consent of the House of Representatives, and has dispensed altogether its original practice of a verbatim third reading of each bill before passage, limiting such third reading to the reading of the title only, including the reading of the title only even when Members of the House of Representatives have no printed or other verbatim copy of the bill before passage.

You can see where this would be a problem. You miss a day or two and you have no idea what you’re voting on when you get back. And these guys miss a lot of days, what with self-aggrandizing press conferences and various other excuses.

But here’s the thing. Paul has some legitimate complaints and he has stuck with this bill and says he is going to continue to stick with it. So he is not just talking. He’s serious about this. He gets due credit for putting his money where his mouth is even if he likes to claim stuff he wrote was actually written by other people.

Even broken clocks are right twice a day.

The significant difference now is that he is proposing mandating a wait of 1 day per 20 pages, which might have been what he meant back in 2010, but you can never be sure what Paul means – he isn’t sure himself to judge by recent events. Vaccines, no vaccines, neo-Confederates, no neo-Confederates…

Wait a doggone minute! Did I hear him right?

Congress can hardly do anything now. If they have to wait 1 day for every 20 pages, nothing will ever get passed. Like, EVER.

If, as he says, “the spending bills are lumped together in something they call a ‘Cromnibus’ that is thousands of pages long,” then even a thousand page bill will require a delay of 50 days. FIFTY DAYS. That’s almost two months. If the bill is 2,000 pages, we are talking about 100 days, nearly 1/3 of a year.

Given Congress generally works for less than half a year (For the House, 133 days in 2014, 153 days in 2012, 128 days in 2010, and a whopping 119 days in 2008, down to 104 days in 2006). What are the odds anything at all gets passed?

They wouldn’t be able to do anything even if they WANTED to do something. Which they don’t.

This might be why nobody is talking about Paul’s Big Idea. Not to mention nobody actually wants to read the legislation they vote on, particularly Republicans, who can’t even be bothered to attend extra special secret meetings before they whine about not being told what they would have learned at the meeting had they bothered to show up.

You get the idea. Paul, clearly, doesn’t.

I mean granted, they don’t read the bills they vote on and they should, so you can see that being required to read a bill would have merit. But Paul isn’t requiring them to actually read it; he’s just providing the time in which they could do so – if they were so inclined.

Which, to judge from past performance, they’re not.

Strangely, Paul’s bill says nothing about a waiting period. Yes, they have to attest that they either read or had read to them the entire bill:

Prior to voting in favor of final passage of any bill (except a private bill) or resolution, each member of the Senate and each member of the House shall sign an affidavit executed under penalty of perjury as provided in Section 1621, Title 18, United States Code, that the member either (i) was present throughout the entire reading of each such bill or resolution, and listened attentively to such reading in its entirety, or (ii) prior to voting for passage of such bill, read attentively each such bill in its entirety, or (iii) some combination of (i) or (ii), provided however, such affidavit shall not be required of any member of either House if such member votes against the passage of any bill or resolution. Copies of the affidavits shall be maintained by the Clerks of each house of Congress.

But they don’t have to wait like he said they would have to wait. Did Paul lie to us? How can we take these guys (and they’re mostly guys) at their word? Some of them, Rand Paul, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, can’t open their mouths without lying.

America, we are being gypped.

This is just asking too much out of them, and asking too much of us to believe anything they say, and they only thing most of them are willing to read these days have “Koch” written all over it.

I don’t think I’m speaking only for myself when I say that Paul’s solution, as is so often the case, is not a solution. It’s just more lipstick on the proverbial pig.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson

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