Democrats’ latest excuse: ‘I didn’t read the bill’

Steve Brown's picture

It’s the hottest excuse in federal government: “I didn’t read the bill.”

Congress’ latest anti-transparency scheme is literally telling the American public that ignorance really is bliss. Yes, you can be granted full immunity on voting for horrible bills, pumping special interests and robbing the average taxpayers if you simply say you did not read the bill.

It used to be an embarrassment, forced public humiliation, when a member of Congress admitted to not reading a piece of legislation prior to voting, but those days are gone.

It was the vote on President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (a.k.a. “stimulus package”) that brought the no-read position into vogue. The bill was still a strong favorite in the polls even though no one had a chance to read it since the 1,100-page bill was not available until 13 hours before Congress began considering it.

Seeing a gimmick whose time had come, the Democrats are now using the tactic on everything from cap-and-trade to healthcare reform.

President Barack “Change” Obama is showing a knack for saying one thing and doing another. Early this year, Macon Phillips, the director of new media for the White House wrote: “Just like your new government, and the rest of the Administration’s online programs will put citizens first. Our initial new media efforts will center around three priorities: communication, transparency and participation.”

Mr. Phillips goes onto define the President’s take on “participation,” saying: “President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the Southside of Chicago, where he saw first-hand what people can do when they come together for a common cause. Citizen participation will be a priority for the administration, and the Internet will play an important role in that. One significant addition to reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it” ( Obviously, we now see the blatant insincerity of that promise.

Indeed, the Obama system does resemble Southside of Chicago politics as the recent energy and climate change bill grew from 946 pages to 1,201 and no one could explain the increase.

Changes were occurring behind closed doors, outside of public committee proceedings. According to the New York Times, President Obama euphorically supported the bill, calling it “extraordinarily important.”

But interestingly enough, President Obama’s energy czar, Carol Browner, admitted to Fox News she had not read the entire cap-and-trade bill even after it was passed by the House of Representatives.

The huge cap-and-trade bill was dumped into legislative bins at 3 a.m. prior to the vote, so the news media had no chance to cover the bill’s contents.

When questioned on the no-read topic, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who can turn even the strongest of stomachs, said, “We have been putting things online. We’re doing so much more than we did just a year or two ago, so I think there’s no secrets, we try to be as upfront as we can, give everyone as much opportunity as we can to move forward,” (, June 26, 2009).

There is little doubt that the biggest economic black eye our country has received since the 1930s was a result of a no-read, 262-page financial deregulation bill called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which was quietly sneaked into an 11,000-page conference report within an omnibus spending bill (HR 4577), made available four minutes before consideration began in Congress.

The bill would later allow a large amount of risky behavior in the financial sector, repealing the Shad-Johnson Jurisdictional Accord, ultimately leading to the global financial crisis of September 2008.

The Bush Administration’s Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was also dumped on the public at the last minute. Even though the House of Representatives rejected the bill, it later came back in a revised form and passed by both the House and Senate on the same day.

It was clear by the scandals that followed that few members of Congress read the entire $700 billion bill prior to voting.

Now, we have public interest groups begging elected officials to actually read before they vote, and giving the American taxpayers a chance to peruse the language themselves.

Let Freedom Ring, a non-profit, grassroots organization that supports a conservative agenda, announced an initiative today urging members of Congress to sign a pledge ( to read and give citizens the opportunity to read any healthcare reform legislation before voting on it.

“For something as significant as healthcare reform, which influences 16 percent to 17 percent of GDP, I think it is important for legislators to know what they’re voting on, and not have lobbyists and staff members be the only ones who know what’s in there,” said Colin Hanna, Let Freedom Ring president ( , June 24, 2009).

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out politicians do not adhere to pledges. However, there is a bill proposed to make it mandatory for all non-emergency bills to be available to the public for 72 hours prior to consideration for a vote.

I think it is time for our friends in the majority Democratic Party to insist that their elected congressmen pass such legislation, with no exceptions for special interests, before we end up worse off than we are today.

[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at]

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mapleleaf's picture
Submitted by mapleleaf on Wed, 07/08/2009 - 4:55pm.

I challenge anyone in Fayette County, and I do mean anyone, to read the entire federal Internal Revenue Code.

Most people don’t even know what it is, so they sure wouldn’t know how to find it. It is our federal tax law.

If you were to find it, and then start to read it, you’d discover this is not something you read. It is something you study. You digest it part by part, slowly, concentrating on the aspects of interest to you.

When you buy a car, do you inspect it, part by part? Of course, not. You rely on the engineers and craftsmen who put it together. You ask questions about the features that interest you.

Our congressmen are not expected to read complicated statutory provisions. They work in committees, where those congressmen who are expert in the particular subject help craft the law, with the help of a large staff of specialists.

We, in Fayette County, have elected a congressman who did not even graduate from college. He would not be able to understand most of these bills he is asked to vote on. Somebody tells him what to do (the Republican party), and he does it.

So let’s not get all snotty about not having time to read complicated laws. You wouldn’t read them yourself even if you had both the time and the ability. If you want a good start, start with the Internal Revenue Code, and then come back (in a few months) and we’ll give you an exam.

By the way, I have read the entire Bible, from A to Z. It took me a year. Who else has done it? Do you remember everything you read?

I have not read the entire Internal Revenue Code. You’d have to be nuts to want to do that. You’ll be better off reading the entire dictionary (which I have not done and won’t do either).

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 07/08/2009 - 6:57pm.

Wait, you mean that's it's expecting "too much" of our elected representatives to have to read a bill they are voting upon? Too much trouble for these fine folks?

You know what happens when the average citizen doesn't read the IRS tax code? Not a damn thing. They aren't voting on it. They aren't elected nor do they enact laws. They are citizens who are instead simply expected to abide by what has already been established as law by the lawmakers themselves. They can either get a grasp of the tax code and how it applies to them or pay someone else to be that expert. Whatever they do affects them, not the entire country and its economy.

The tax code is a terrible analogy to use as it an evolving body of work that has grown since being first enacted over a century ago. The cap-and-trade BS is a brand new, original bill. It's not an addition/subtraction to existing laws or regulations. It's in its simplest form right now that it will ever be before subsequent revisions and additions are made(if it is in fact ever enacted). If congress-types can't be bothered with reading and understanding it right now, they never will in the future.

Cyclist's picture
Submitted by Cyclist on Wed, 07/08/2009 - 5:03pm.

Pelosi and Reid:

Step 1.

How much money did you make last year?___________

Step 2.

Send it all in.
Caution - The Surgeon General has determined that constant blogging is an addiction that can cause a sedentary life style.

mapleleaf's picture
Submitted by mapleleaf on Fri, 07/10/2009 - 6:59am.

It looks to me like our chest-thumping Tea Party zealots and the complainers that bills don't get read by our Congressmen aren't up to my challenge. OK guys, how many of you have read the Bible in its entirety?

One reason they want the Ten Commandments posted on the walls of public buildings is so they will be able to find them and read them. It would be useful during an interview where you're challenged to recite some of these commandments to just look up on the wall in front of you and use that as your teleprompter.

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Fri, 07/10/2009 - 8:36am.

Well, I'm not the Tea Party scene but I've read it about 4 times over the course of my lifetime. I find it to be a fascinating piece of history and work, and also complex than the tax code.

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