Rep. Brian Baird in Washington Post: "We need to read the bills" (11/27/04)

Written in Nov. 2004, this piece is still valid today.

excerpts follow:

WASHINGTON POST
“We Need To Read The Bills”
By Brian Baird
November 27, 2004; Page A31

Last Saturday both the House and Senate voted to give the Appropriations Committee chairmen and their staff unrestricted access to the income tax returns of ordinary Americans. This extraordinary opportunity for privacy invasion does not have the majority support of either chamber, and the embarrassed Republican leadership quickly vowed to remove it.

But how did this dangerous provision pass Congress in the first place? The answer is simple: Members didn’t have enough time to read the bill.

Current rules require that bills be available to be read for at least three days before coming to a vote. Unfortunately, those rules are routinely overridden by the Republican majority, leaving only a few hours to read bills that are thousands of pages in length and spend hundreds of billions of the people’s dollars.

There is now an inverse relationship between the importance of legislation and the amount of time members have to study it before voting.

In addition to this latest abuse of power, prominent examples from the 108th Congress include the Medicare prescription drug bill, the energy bill, the intelligence bill and the defense authorization bill. These important pieces of legislation total more than 2,900 pages of text and authorize more than $1 trillion of spending. Yet, collectively they were available to members for less than 48 hours total for reading.