Thomas Mann is correct: experts will be main bill readers, not ordinary citizens

Submitted by Rafael DeGennaro on Tue, 2006-02-28 21:31.

In a March 1, 2006 story in the
Washington Post
, Thomas Mann makes an important point about who will read the bills:

Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution said these efforts are important because lawmakers have increasingly abused the earmarking practice. Still, he said he doubts ordinary citizens would read through the bills. Rather, “it would be available for people with an interest one way or another to see what got put in.”

He is correct. It show why 72 hours is the minimum needed.

Average citizens with three kids and two jobs won’t sit up nights reading the legalese of a 500-page tax bill. Instead, they’ll rely on sources they trust to pass the word about shady stuff.

Likelier readers are experts such as congressional staff and people with a financial or policy interest. For example, legislative provisions about building submarines in a Virginia shipyard will be scoured carefully by boosters of a competitor shipyard in Connecticut. Similarly, lobbyists for the banking industry will scrutinize provisions for the credit unions. This is healthy. Bills will be carefully read by experts employed by public interest organizations, unions, universities and all levels of government. Of course, with diligence and discipline, some average citizens will make themselves into experts, which is great.

All of these experts will sound the alarm through the media, blogs and plain old email. Average citizens will learn from these sources, and occasionally read an excerpt from a bill. They can decide for themselves, and tell their member of Congress if they believe there is a problem.

That is why it’s so important to post bills for a full 72 hours. It’s enough time not only to find the flaws, but to sound the alarm and fix a few. Alternative proposals to post bills for 24 or 48 hours just are not long enough for experts and citizens to both player their roles.