Our Founding Fathers wrote the documents creating the greatest nation the world has ever known using plain English. Although drafted by highly educated and talented people, they knew that in order to get the public to support their efforts the common folk, as well as the cultured, had to understand it.
There is not a doubt in my mind that the average American high school student today can fully understand and appreciate the words and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Amendments thereto including the Bill of Rights. The same cannot be said of the health care bill passed by the House. You need a Ph.D., a degree in economics and a law degree to fully appreciate the gist of the convoluted and highly technical legislation that will affect every single American.
There is no way even the average legislator can fully understand a 1, 900+ page highly technical bill --even with the help of the ample staff members who work for them.
Highly specialized staffers, government lawyers, lobbyists, industry executives and their lawyers write these bills. They are purposely written to obscure the true intent, meaning and effect of the bills they author.
Here are two questions for our lawmakers:
- If you, as a legislator, cannot understand a bill, how can you vote on it?
- If the American people cannot understand a bill, how can they support it?
For starters, I say that no single bill should exceed 50 pages.
All bills should be required to meet a “plain language” standard. This would force the drafters to make legislation understandable and succinct.
Many states have enacted “plain language” statutes that require consumer contracts to be, “written in a clear and coherent manner using words with common and everyday meanings…” NY General Obligations Law Section: 5-702.
It is ironic that the federal government enacted the “Truth in Lending Act” which requires certain disclosures be made to consumers yet there is no requirement for those disclosures to be written in “plain language.”
Our Constitution begins with the words, “We the People” not “We the elite”, or “We the Legislators.” The people need to understand what their government is doing in their behalf.
The only way to insure a more informed and engaged public is to provide them with information they can understand.
Can’t our legislators understand that?
Bradley A. Blakeman is a professor of Public Policy and Politics at Georgetown University. He served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04 and is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.
Former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush