Published April 13, 2011
We need a Bill of Rights for the U.S. Congress. Here's why:
To hold up a bill because the amendments thereto are not germane to the main subject matter is disgraceful.
The fact that either Party would stymie a bill with non-subject matter amendments is all about politics and has little if nothing to do with governing.
Folks, this problem is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to get back to basics and that means that all bills in the House and Senate must adhere to the following rules: Here's my plan for a "Bill' of Rights:
1. Bills are limited to no more than 125 pages;
2. Bills must be written in plain English;
3. Bills cannot contain any amendment that is not germane to the main subject matter of the bill itself;
4. Bills must be published online within 24 hours of being referred for committee consideration;
5. Bills must be published online within 48 hours of any votes being taken on the bill by committee or by the full House or Senate;
6. Bills must contain a "citations" page, which identifies all persons who had an actual hand in writing the bill including government and non-government persons; and must identify the section(s) they had a hand in;
7. Bills must contain a preamble which attests to the Constitutionality of the Bill citing the exact constitutional language and section(s) that permit the bill;
8. No earmarks will be allowed to any bill. As a compromise, the leadership of the House and Senate Republicans and Democrats may offer a annual "Discretionary Spending Bill" which will contain the names of the members who are requesting the expenditure, the name of the beneficiary, the purpose of the expenditure and the amount of money that is requested;
9. Bills will not add to the deficit;
10. Bills must be pay as you go and must be funded by current revenues.
Bills must stand and fall based on the subject matter of its content and not on amendments added by members when no one is looking or in an effort to defeat or sabotage the bill itself.
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 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. You need a Ph.D., a degree in economics and a law degree to fully appreciate the convoluted and highly technical legislation that will affect every single American.
There is no way even the average legislator can fully understand a 2,000+ page highly technical bill, even with the benefit of the extensive staff's they are afforded.
Highly specialized staffers, government lawyers, lobbyists, industry executives and their lawyers and "experts" write these Bills. They are purposely written to obscure the true intent, meaning and effect of the Bills they author. In addition, to fully understand and appreciate a bill you must be able to understand and appreciate the agencies rules and regulations that are incorporated by reference which adds thousands of more pages that must be read in conjunction with the underlying bill it affects.
If as a legislator, you have not read a bill, How can you vote on it?
If as a legislator, you cannot understand a bill, how can you vote on it?
If the American People cannot understand a bill, how can they support it?
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 (See N.Y. General Obligations Law Section: 5-702.)
It is ironic that our 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 immortal lines, "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 our legislators are engaged and leading us -- as opposed to being led by others not responsible to the people -- is to streamline the process so they can do their jobs effectively.
The only way to insure a more informed and engaged public is to provide them with information they can understand.
The only way to make our government more responsible and responsive to the needs of the people is to adhere to a process that keeps government disciplined, focused, fair and understandable.
The aforementioned rules are not in any way political. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. The rules I have set forth are favorable to both Republicans and Democrats. There is no way either Party can gain an unfair advantage over the other and perhaps that will be the very reason they will never be enacted.
The gridlock we have witnessed with the budget had more do to with non-germane amendments to the actual budget bill than the bill itself. These time-wasting political shenanigans have infuriated Americans of all political stripes.
Let's face it, citizens are fed up. We are faced everyday with the tough task of just making ends meet. We are plagued by high unemployment, a continuing housing crisis, soaring gas prices, inflation, government debt and war. We are desperate to have our government officials help us change our condition for the better and not to make matters worse.
Now is the time for all good persons to come to the aid of their country. We need to get back to basics and permit government to function as those who created it, our Founding Fathers, intended it.
Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion.