Rep. Conyers: Don’t Read the Bill

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“I love these members, they get up and say, ‘Read the bill,’” said Rep. John Conyers. “What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”

That’s an elected member of Congress explaining why lawmakers shouldn’t bother themselves with reading bills. It’s just too gosh-darned difficult. And who’s ever heard of lawyers working in congressional offices? Not me, no way.

Seriously, as a representative of a district, congressmen should know what they are voting on and, if they need help, they employ people who can help them read the bills and inform their decision-making process on behalf of their constituents.

Rep. Conyers appears to have disdain for this notion. It makes me wonder about two things. When the Democrats won back control of Congress in 2006 their proposed ethics reform package included a Read the Bill section. The committee with jurisdiction over the reform process was headed by Conyers. Did his disregard for bill reading leave this section on the cutting room floor? Also, this video from Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” has a completely different context now: Go to ReadTheBill.org and tell your congressman that you don’t agree with Rep. Conyers. Tell them that they should support a 72 hour rule for placing all bills online.

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  • I don’t really have the context to know what he means, but to me it sounds like he’s saying that simply declaring “everyone should read the bill” isn’t sufficient because the legislature isn’t setup to make that possible. That is, bills need to be finalized earlier, need to be structured to be more understandable, need to be written to be clearer, and there needs to be time allotted to actually read the bill. Digesting a thousand pages of dense text in two days is probably not possible, no matter how many people you throw at it. And is that effort going to be multiplied by every representative and senator, each with private bill reading staff?

    This is not to say that voting on unread bills is in any way reasonable, but it is unreasonable to claim that *individuals* in the system just aren’t trying hard enough.

  • JohnR

    I’m famililar with Conyers as he’s from my State. IMO he doesn’t read the bills because he really can’t read. Just another example of a Pope-like congressman “for life” who has been there far too long and is effected with hubris.

    Term limits now! Clean out the dead wood.

  • Marc

    Ian Bicking gets it perfectly correct. However, the solution isn’t to excuse the ‘individuals’. It’s to enforce the rules and not allow votes until sufficient time for consituents to read the bills. My personal estimate is a day per every 200 pages in a bill, not including weekends. Who knows, it might even get Congress to pass smaller and more focused bills instead of making everything an ‘omnibus’ to avoid having to take stands on particular issues.

  • Paul From BKLYN

    How in Sam Hill can anyone actually rationalize a goverment that habitually votes in billion-to-trillion dollar pieces of legislation without understanding what’s in them? You are all loopy. Really. This is ridiculous.

  • TheEnforcer

    Vote them ALL OUT!!!

    ALL of THEM.

    DEMOCRATS, REPUBLICANS.

    OUT!!!!

  • Malcom Z

    Bottom line here is that these people are not doing their job. Their job is to read the bills and then vote on them. If the bills are incoherent or confusing, then have them rewritten. There’s no way to know unless someone actually sits down and reads the freakin thing. The Democratic leadership doesn’t want anyone to read them and that is abundantly clear in how long the bills are and how little time the members have to read and digest the bills. Conyers is the problem as he sees no problem with what’s going on. He just concedes to not even bother, but yet will vote in favor on ignorance. He’s just corrupt.

  • PattyDaddy

    So who is writing the bills if not our representatives? Conyers and others like him should be unemployed. Who elects these idiots? I guess we get the government we deserve.

  • Denise Levine

    A small group of us in Napa, California, were forced to enact the Read and Understand Initiative, when it became clear that our paid representatives were not doing the job. While we were reading TMDL’s. zoning changes, and other regulations thoroughly, Supervisors were relying “on staff”, to whom they would then point if a constituent put them on the spot for specifics they were not knowledgeable of. As one supervisor said to me during a session in which he pleaded with our board to abandon our intention of working to pass this initiative..”I know i should have stopped it (totally political decision called the Stream Setback Ordinance), and I could have stopped it, but I am a man of my word, and I made promises to people and I keep them.” Whew. What do you do with that? Well, we got the Read and Understand Initiative passed with over 80%. The powers that be vilified us, threatened us and maligned us in print and on the radio, but now they do read the bills, it has not cost more money and in fact has circumvented several potential lawsuits. It makes me happy to see this trend growing. We have to make them stop.

    * Measure Z Ballot Arguments

    When the Board of Supervisors passed the Stream Setback Ordinance in 2003 (subsequently overturned by voters as Measure P) they did so apparently without reading it. They apparently relied on staff analysis and staff recommendations instead of reading it for themselves. During public debates on Measure P before it was defeated, several supervisors made claims directly contrary to the wording of the ordinance, and accused us of misrepresenting the ordinance when we quoted directly from it.

    More recently, Planning Staff tried to pass off a 49-page radical revision of our CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Local Guidelines as a minor administrative update, rather than as a major ordinance revision. The Staff report “executive summary” to the Board was one sentence, and the text of the revisions was not included in the package. It was posted to the BOS agenda as a first and final reading and probable passage of a resolution to adopt minor updating. It would almost certainly have been passed unanimously by the BOS without reading it if we had not intervened. There is more info about this incident here.

    NVLSA hopes to correct this situation via ballot initiative requiring each Supervisor to read and understand every ordinance before voting to pass it, and to certify at the time of signing it that he or she has done so. The “Read and Understand” initiative does not provide any enforcement mechanism. It is simply a statement by the voters to the Board of Supervisors that reading and understanding the regulations they pass is part of their job description, and a fundamental part of their responsibility to the public.
    The Read and Understand Act
    Whereas the people of Napa County do hereby find that:

    1) Each Napa County Supervisor’s responsibilities to the people of Napa County include the duty to thoroughly read and understand every ordinance, regulation, or resolution prior to voting to pass it;

    2) Some ordinances are complex and not easy to thoroughly understand, especially with only a cursory reading;

    3) Passing an ordinance not thoroughly understood carries significant risk of adverse unintended consequences for the people of Napa County;

    4) A County Supervisor might occasionally be tempted to just cursorily read, or not read at all, a complex ordinance, regulation, or resolution and documents adopted by resolution, and to rely primarily on staff analysis of an ordinance to gain an understanding of it; and

    5) A Supervisor’s responsibility to read and understand is not met by solely or primarily relying on staff analysis of a proposed ordinance, regulation or resolution;

    Now, therefore, the people of Napa County resolve and do hereby ordain that:

    1) Each and every County Supervisor who votes to approve any new ordinance, regulation, or resolution shall first have thoroughly read and understood it, including its direct and indirect impacts on the citizens of Napa County, and shall certify in writing at the time of voting in favor of the ordinance, regulation, or resolution; and prior to its going into effect, that he/she has read it thoroughly and has thoroughly understood its direct and indirect impacts on the citizens of Napa County prior to voting to approve it.

    2) Nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit any Supervisor from simply voting “NO”; or from insisting that a complex ordinance be rewritten or simplified prior to voting on it; or from enlisting the assistance of County staff or outside consultants as necessary to achieve the required degree of understanding, as long as that Supervisor also reads it thoroughly and as many times as necessary in order to gain or confirm his/her own understanding.

    3) If any part of this ordinance or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications which can reasonably be given effect without the invalid provision or application.

    End of initiative

  • elephant4life

    The problem isn’t so much that the Congressmen and Senators can’t or won’t read, or can’t or don’t want to understand, the legislation they’re perpetrating. It’s more that the Arbiter-in-Chief is setting artificial and unrealistic deadlines for crafting, debating, and passage of the bills, and no one in Congress has had the cojones – until recently – to tell him to stuff it.

    Perhaps if Obama had actually spent any time doing his job when he was Senator, instead of applying for a promotion, he would know this.

    There are some notable exceptions, and they did it for Bush too: The Patriot Act, the AIG bonuses 90% tax – those are examples of permitting media histrionics and public sentiment to override prudent action.

  • truth detector .. MI

    I am from MI …and I am totally ashamed that we have this HACK in Congress.

    And LOOK UP what happened to his wife …search Conyers, Detroit City, bribery ….

    She might be going to prison.

  • Paulina

    Conyers has a point.

    Not about not reading the bill, but that *simply* reading it is not good enough, when bills are not clear.

    Ironically, he seems confused about whose responsibility it is to craft transparent legislation and communicate what a bill implies…

    We need a “Write the Bill” bill in addition to the “Read the Bill” bill.

    The “Write the Bill” bill would “encourage” legislators to make the bill’s progress (regress?) thru the legislative process transparent, including displaying all changes in the bill along the way in clickable highlights. Clicking such a highlight would take the reader to a link explaining what the change means and…WHY…it was made. Along with supporting documents.

  • Matt

    I concur. If they don’t get it, they shouldn’t be there! If I tried to say, “I don’t need to worry about that, I can just say yes” kind of crap in my job, I would find myself on the street in a matter of days (if not hours!). I totally agree with Paulina, they need to write the bill so we know and read it so they know.

    But, here’s my major question: if no one in congress can read or understand the bills they’re passing, who is? Seems a bit of a problem….

  • The fact that this man openly admits he votes on these bills without reading them is grounds for dimissal in my book. It’s like writing prescriptions without doing medical examinatins. These bills directly affect the American people and the larger bills are the most invasive. Time to vote all of the dinosaurs out.

  • Tim

    It seems incongruous to me that our honorable congressmen, who condemn our mortgage brokers for helping some of us foolishly to sign papers that we have not read, continue to support the President and the leaders in congress, who are asking them foolishly to vote on legislation that they have not read.

    In the one case, as in the other, financial misery and real human suffering are often the result.

  • First of all we need to stop passing thousand-page bills practically overnight, surrounded by such urgency and lack of transparency. Second, begin to rebuild our government from the bottom (local, county,state)up. Third, bring criminals to justice.That should keep us busy for a while.

    Sign me,
    voted for Cynthia McKinny

  • AZITDad

    It might be easier to ask the folks in Congress which bills they have ACTUALLY read… and if they can remember what was in them.

    I agree… they are all dead wood.

  • Liberal

    I disagree with (nearly) all of you. H

    First, he is in congress because he won an election; he has every right to be there, and those of you who are unhappy about it should run against him next time.

    Second, he is absolutely right that just “reading the bill” as if it’s a novel or a newspaper is pointless. It is written in legal language and, unless you are trained to read and understand that language, you don’t have a hope.

    Third, I didn’t see any of you hypocrites complaining that senators didn’t “read the bill” when they passed the $122 billion Iraq appropriations bill under President Bush.

  • James

    I know people may hit this site again because of the brilliant comments by the “Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee”.

    I would like to say – if you can’t read the bill, or if you can read it but don’t understand it – then how in the HELL will you ever know if you are for it or against it??!!??!?!?

    All the damn politicians! You are not voting on what someone tells you while your in the men’s/women’s room, standing there waiting for the piss to start.

    My word – I am so sick of this crap I can’t stand it. Maybe it’s in the “Good and Welfare” clause you can do all this.

  • Bob

    To the liberal:
    1.Being elected does not give him the right to not do the job. I also cannot run against him since I live in Arizona, but his vote still effects me.
    2. “Legal” language is still English. I am not in the law profession and I’m no genius but with time and effort I was able to understand it. Practice will make him better at it and he also has staff to answer questions. If he is incapable of this, he is not fit for office.
    3. When they voted in the appropriations for the Iraq was under Bush, I did complain. There were other items put in there that had nothing to do with the war. I believe the practice of bundling dissimilar bills should be illegal. Your not having seen my complaints doesn’t mean I didn’t state them.