Balkinization  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Irrational expectations

Sandy Levinson

A common criticism of members of Congress, one I'm embarrassed to say I've made myself at times over the years, is that many members vote for bills they haven't read in full and/or cannot explain when someone at a "town meeting" asks about Section 547(d)(3) of a many-hundred page bill. I have come to the conclusion that any such expectation is irrational.

Begin with the fact that many bills are inevitably long and complex, just because we live in an incredibly complex society. The "Harper's Index" in the current issue notes that the recent financial bill was 848 pages long, whereas the original bills creating Social Security and the Federal Trade Commission were, respectively, 29 and 8 pages. Charles Seife has just published a book called Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception, of which this is a perfect example. One immediately would like to know how many additional pages of relevant federal statutes have been passed since the 1935 passage of the Social Security Act and the 1913 (I believe) passage of the Federal Trade Commission Act, not to mention, on the principle of (more-or-less) comparing apples with apples, the total number of pages of legislation devoted to banking and securities since 1934. The relevant question is obviously how complex should a bill be that is regulating the financial services industry or, as in the case of the 2000 page health-care bill, attempting to get a grip on an industry that involves roughly 15% of the entire economy and is threatening to bankrupt us all (or simply leave millions dying in the streets) unless badly needed changes take place. Sad to say, we don't live in a simple world, and attempts to confront that world, whether in a pre-marital agreement between two mega-rich celebrities or an attempt by Congress to respond to what John Marshall called "the various crises of human affairs" may well take more than 29 pages.

So now we move to the second point, which is the expectation that every member of Congress read all of the legislation he/she is asked to vote for. I don't know exactly how many bills come before Congress in a typical session and the length of each bill. In any case, one can ask if it's realistic to expect Represenatives and Senators to read, say, 10,000 pages of legislation/session, along with, say, holding hearings, "debating" on the floor, and returning to their home districts every weekend in order to have town meetings with constituents who will otherwise condumn them as out-of-touch-elitists. (I make no mention, of course, of the time spent by members of Congress raising funds for their next campaigns.) But even if one imagines a mythic member of Congress who devotedly reads (along with the full Congressional Record, of course, and every written submission to any and all committees on which he/she serves) every page of legislation, the next question is whether we can remotely expect every member of Congress to have a genuine understanding of every piece of complex legislation. Perhaps if every member were a polymath like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, the answer is yes, but I suspect that even Franklin and Jefferson would have a hard time getting up to speed on each and every question that faces a modern legislature. (Does one expect, incidentally, the President--i.e., any President--to read every page of legislation he/she signs--or vetoes--and to be able to discuss the most arcane details if asked about them by a "gotcha" reporter at a news conference?)

Among other things, this is why from a very early time, Congress created committees, and the purpose of a committee, in a well-functioning legislature, is to assure the creation of relative experts who will be able to understand proposals and to vet them. The rest of the House or Senate can then vote for or against the legislation largely on the basis of the trustworthiness, built up over the years, of supporters and opponents of the legislation. To expect anything else is irrational. (One of the reasons people hire lawyers or accountants, after all, is to receive from them trustworthy interpretations of legislation and regulations that are justifiably deemed "technical," i.e., requiring the mediation of a trained professional truly to understand.)

As I was listening, while attending a panel on the filibuster at the recent American Political Science Association convention in D.C., to someone from the Heritage Foundation lacing into members of Congress who didn't read all the legislation they voted on, the analogy occurred to me of the appointments and promotion process at any university, where the key question is to assess the work done by a candidate either for hiring or even more seriously for promotion to tenure. It is certianly the case that we ought to expect everyone on the candidate's tenure committee to read all of the work he/she has written and to be able to offer a reliable assessments of its quality to the rest of the faculty. That, after all, is what committees are for, and one expects "due diligence" from their members. But does one really expect even the rest of the faculty to read all of the material? It's not only that they would quickly find that there is no time to do their own work, whether research or preparation for teaching; it's also the case that one would be asking, say, specialists in American history to offer a professional evaluation of the work done by someone whose specialty is Chinese history. (For sports-analogy buffs, it's like expecting Roger Angell suddenly to start covering professional football or fencing for the New Yorker because, after all, all sports are just the same.) But let's even grant that members of the history department should read the work of their colleagues, prior to promotion. and let's assume that the department, after receiving, say, a strong recommendation to promote, agrees, whether unanimously or even by a lop-sided vote. Do we expect the Dean of the School of Liberal Arts or Sciences to read the entire file and to make a genuinely informed evaluation of the work? Perhaps we do expect the Dean to ask for outside letters to make sure that the promotion isn't based simply on a friends-and-neightbors principle. We might refer to this as a further form of "hearings," but there's still the problem of how, exactly, the Dean would truly be able to decide whether those who like the work or dislike it have the better argument. (Some universities finesse this by requiring basically that there be no negative evaluations from outsiders, which obviously has real ramifications for anyone taking controversial positions or using innovative methodologies.) But let's assume the Dean signs off on the recommendation, and it now goes to the Provost. Does anyone in the entire universe expect the Provost (or the university president) to read all the books, on physics, ancient Near Eastern languages, econometrics, modal logic, and synthetic genetics, for starters, before signing off on the deciison? To use a word I am prone to overuse, any such expectation would be insane. (This is one of the reasons that Adam Smith defended the merits of division of labor.)

I have come to the conclusion that it is equally insane to expect everyone to read all of the legislation, at least if one can assume that the committee system is operating reasonably. My argument does not extend, say, to bills introduced in the waning moments of a legislative session or under conditions of panic (think of the PATRIOT bill in this context), where the usual process of hearings and vetting is foregone. I am more than happy to condemn legislators who vote for legislation that, in effect, no one has read. But that's not the case with either the medical care or the financial services acts, both of which were the product of extensive hearings and vetting. There are, of course, lots of imperfections in both bills, but they are the result of the defects of the American political system, not the failure of some representative or senator to read the bill.

Comments:

I think this defense fails.

It's not, after all, just that they don't read the bills. It's that they aren't permitted to read the bills. They vote without access to the text. They can't split the bill up among staffers to read. They can't run key word searches. They can't post the text online and let 10,000 constituents pour over it, and flag anything questionable.

All they can do is take the word of other legislators for what's in the bill. Legislators who represent other districts, who may be of a differing ideology. Who, to put it bluntly, may not be very reliable sources of information about what's in the bill, or what the expected effects are.

Delegating reading the bill to other legislators is thus very different in principle from a legislator delegating reading it to his staff. It brings into question the whole notion that you're represented!

Secondly, they don't have the time to read the legislation? Guess what: We don't have the time to read it, either, but we're expected to comply with it. So, don't expect any sympathy from the public on that score. If ignorance of the law is to be no defense, the members of Congress can damned well be required to be omniscient, too.

Complex societies don't require complex rules. They require governments that don't micromanage. They need governments that scale what they do to what it's humanly possible for the people making the rules to understand.

I would go so far as to say that the complexity is actually there for BAD reasons. It's there to make the special deals, to do this company favors, punish that group for not paying up, to hide the controversial amendment that would never pass if people knew it was there.

It's the darkness in which the evil deed is done.
 

Professor, I see a couple of shortcomings with your analogy to academia. For one thing, it may be fair to judge a candidate for a professor job or tenure based on an arbitrary sampling of their scholarship. Whether or not this is ideal, you could still defend it as getting a general feel for what the candidate's work is like. This does not apply to legislation, since each provision has a discrete meaning that's going to have a binding legal effect. You can't just sample some of the provisions and rationally conclude, "OK, I've read enough to have a good guess that every provision here is a good idea."

But even putting that aside and assuming for the sake of argument that legislators who vote on bills without reading them are acting very much like faculty who vote on tenure without having read a professor's whole oeuvre, there's still a problem with this argument. You seem to assume that we'll have no problem with the practices and features of academia that you've described. Therefore, you'd like us to conclude that there's also no problem with what legislators do. Couldn't the reverse be true? That is, what if they're both huge problems? Thomas Sowell in his book Economic Facts and Fallacies (chapter 4) argues that it is indeed a huge problem that decisions about hiring, curricula, etc. are made by faculty who can't possibly have the relevant subject-matter expertise.
 

sterBrett makes a good point that we can expect legislators to have people on their staffs who can read (and explain) the bill. I am afraid, though, that I think it's simply absurd (sorry, Brett) to argue that "complex societies don't require complex rules." Perhaps they don't require exclusively complex rules ("drive on the right side of the road, at least in the US" is a simple rule that performs great public service), but deciding what medicines should be made available to a public that is necessarily ignorant of their possible dangers requires very complex rules indeed.

I am also mystified by the citation to Thomas Sowell in the second response. Does Sowell believe that we can escape tenure decisions being made, to some respect at least (by deans, provosts, etc.) by people who have no plausible personal ability to evaluate the cases? I'm not in the least saying there are "no problems" with the way universities operate today with regard to making tenure decisions. But I want to know if relying on professional expertise is itself a problem that can be resolved by turning decisions over to people who can't possibly understand whether, say, a particular mathematician has or has not proved Fermat's last theorm?
 

I am also mystified by the citation to Thomas Sowell in the second response. Does Sowell believe that we can escape tenure decisions being made, to some respect at least (by deans, provosts, etc.) by people who have no plausible personal ability to evaluate the cases?

Well, I'm not Sowell, so I don't want to go too far in trying to speak for him. I'm not saying I share his attitude toward universities. I'm just saying it's not uncontroversial that universities' decision-making processes for hiring, promotion, etc. are adequate. If legislators' decisions are analogous to provosts', it doesn't follow that they're both doing a good job; an alternative assessment is that they are both inevitably incompetent at their own jobs.

If I understand Sowell correctly (though I recommend reading his book rather than going by my version of what he says), he believes that the role of universities in our society is far too prominent. He would like academia to be less dominant. For that matter, he'd like government to be less dominant too. So he might be happy with your analogy -- he'd just say, "Yeah, they're all unacceptably bad at their jobs and should be given much less power than they have." The reasoning of your post doesn't appear inconsistent with that conclusion.
 

Agreed that it would be unreasonable to expect all members to read every piece of legislation. And even if someone were to read a complex bill (say the health care law) from beginning to end, it would be impossible to have anything approaching a full understanding of its meaning (much less its actual impact, which will depend, among many other things, on regulations which are to be written after the bill passes).

The claim, however, that members can rely on the “vetting” of these bills by the “relative experts” who serve on committees is pretty far-fetched. First, it is doubtful if one could find any case where a committee truly has (or takes) the time to “vet” a major piece of legislation (see The Broken Branch, p. 170). Second, its not like most major pieces of legislation, such as health care, originate as a single piece of legislation from one committee. Instead, you have multiple committees in each house producing different versions of legislation which will be merged without much serious consideration as to how the parts fit together, much less an open process of debate and deliberation. Third, once the two houses pass different versions of the bill, typically the congressional leadership takes over and drafts its own version, which may have little resemblance to what was actually considered in any committee.

The people making the final decisions about what gets into legislation are more likely to be concerned about the political impact on the public at large and the reaction of specific groups that are interested in it than about any kind of coherent policy approach.
 

They vote without access to the text. They can't split the bill up among staffers to read. They can't run key word searches. They can't post the text online and let 10,000 constituents pour over it, and flag anything questionable.

Meh. Constituents can go and pore over the text of bills that are introduced and follow all of their changes through the Thomas site. So can congressmen and their staffers.

If someone drops a 1000 page bill and expects a vote the same day, I can understand the outrage. If both houses vote on a bill, but the final product is something radically different, I can understand the outrage. But the whole idea that "I didn't have time to read it" strikes me as just another lame excuse. Skip a power dinner and do your job, or hire someone to vet the bill for you.
 

I want to qualify my remarks above by saying that I agree with Sandy's point that a representative cannot read all of the bills and know them inside and out. It might not be so far-fetched for them to know all of the bills presented in committees of which they are members and, as Sandy proposes, trust their colleagues in other committees to do the same.

The next step is where I think the two-party system has a problem; party leaderships provide voting cues for a given bill on the basis of the opposing party's position. Votes are too often made to score political points against the opposing party, rather than address an actual deficiency in a bill.
 

"but deciding what medicines should be made available to a public that is necessarily ignorant of their possible dangers requires very complex rules indeed."

Look, first of all, we've got this whole profession for that purpose, the "medical' profession. So I'd dispute that this sort of thing is actually a job for the government. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that it really IS necessary for the government to micro-manage what drugs the populace will be permitted access to.

If Representative X isn't reading the bill that does that before voting on it, how can we really claim that his vote actually contributes anything to the decision? Aren't we just slapping "representative democracy" paint on the output of an oligarchy? Pelosi, or whoever she appoints to the job, makes the decision, and then the elected representative for your district signs a blank check.

And the idea that you're actually represented in the decision is a sham.

At the very least, any meaningful degree of representative democracy requires that the representatives have access to the texts of the laws they'll be voting on, far enough in advance of the vote that they can implement SOME process for reviewing it. Maybe not reading it themselves, but assigning somebody THEY pick to read it on their behalf.

But we haven't got even that degree of transparency in the operation of Congress. And I'd argue the reason we don't, is not that it's a requirement of a complex society to pass huge bills in a freaking hurry, so that we can find out what's in them after they've been enacted.

The reason we don't, is to transfer power from the membership of Congress as a whole, to a small subset of the membership, the "leadership", so that they can rule on Congress's behalf.

A glaring example of this would be the "enrolled bill" rule, where, if the leadership of Congress attest to the fact that a bill was passed by both chambers, the courts will not entertain evidence that this is not, in fact, true. Leading to situations where we know damned well that the "enrolled" bill wasn't the one voted on.

This is corruption, not the requirements of a complex society.
 

Brett's response to Sandy on medicines available to the public:

"Look, first of all, we've got this whole profession for that purpose, the 'medical' profession."

seems to suggest that the "medical" profession can itself, without government, make determinations regarding drugs. But there was a "medical" profession long before the first FDA statute. This "medical" profession has made quite a few advances since with the enactment of more FDA statutes (including the the 1970s Medical Device Act with which I had quite a bit of experience). Jumping ahead to the present with "exposures" of certain members of the "medical" profession publishing articles/studies on drugs without disclosure of their financial arrangements with drug companies involved with such drugs suggests that the "medical" profession cannot be expected to adequately police itself, similar to Wall Street firms. (With the legal profession, generally courts are involved with "supervision" of actions of bar groups.) As medicine itself gets more complex, can we expect the "medical" profession to adequately police itself to protect the public?

By the Bybee (still not forgotten), the attacks on government and academia can be made in spades with respect to corporations. Of course, we all have standing with respect to government and in a limited way with respect to academia, but less so with corporations (especially when SCOTUS 5-4 equates corporations with people - one person, one vote, but one person can be involved with many, many corporations, if that one person has deep pockets).
 

I had this debate with someone recently and basically agree that expecting every member to know about all that they signed, particularly given some of it is pretty technical, is not realistic.

It is appropriate that they vet the bills (this is why they have staffs) and there is a greater responsibility for members of committees and subcommittees (again, this is why they exist, to be delegated the matters at hand).

They have to take responsibility for their actions though as much as if some junior member of a team does something wrong the seniors are responsible, even if the seniors have no ability to know everything that happens.

It also is a good idea to not have last minute bills. The whole point of having "three readings" or whatever is to give time. The power of individual legislators also leads me to be cynical that there is loads of real "coercion" to not read the bills in time.

That tends to come off as an excuse. If they want to make it an issue, they could. They simply rather not force the issue, when it might benefit them.
 

Shag makes a good point as to "less so" in respect to corporations.

Corporations are products of the state though. If we wanted to, we could require corporations to protect due process more than they do now.

The cries of "socialism" sometimes ignores the fact that corporations can be a real threat and that regulations (passed by the people's representatives) is more democratic.

This should be made more clear, but corporate power affects both parties, so it's sort of gauche to say when running for re-election.
 

Complex societies do not require complex laws if Congress' intent is simply to prohibit acts where one person harms another. The reason that this Congress' bills are so long is that its improper intent is for government to run large sectors of the economy.

If Congress does not have time to even cursorily read the legislation that it enacts, perhaps it is simply enacting too much legislation and needs to slow down. If I took on ten new clients a day, declined to read the law pertinent to each case and then lost the cases, I doubt the bar disciplinary board would be too sympathetic to an argument that I was simply too busy to read the law.

Even assuming that it is sometimes proper to enact legislation in ignorance and inflict the consequences on the people, it is not unreasonable to expect my representative and senators to at least read the important bills - like the one where the government decides what health insurance I am permitted to purchase.

It is pretty bad when average Tea Party folks can make time after working and taking care of their kids to read the Obamacare legislation only to find out at their Congress critter's town hall meeting that he or she has not bothered to even glance at it and has no idea what it contains.

It's your damn job people. If you cannot do the job, maybe we can find someone who can.
 

It's your damn job people. If you cannot do the job, maybe we can find someone who can.
# posted by Bart DePalma : 9:59 AM


Blankshot, the period from 2000 to 2008 would seem to indicate otherwise.
 

I have recently written a law review article making the most complete statement to date of the argument that Members of Congress should read bills before voting on them. It's forthcoming in the Missouri Law Review, and you can access the most recent draft here: http://works.bepress.com/hanah_volokh/3/
 

Our yodeler has apparently completely abandoned the Bush/Cheney bandwagon 2001-2009 and now claims to be a charter member of the Tea Party, providing us with this:

"It is pretty bad when average Tea Party folks can make time after working and taking care of their kids to read the Obamacare legislation only to find out at their Congress critter's town hall meeting that he or she has not bothered to even glance at it and has no idea what it contains. "

How can one describe an "average Tea Party" folk? Does such folk work? Does such folk have young kids to take of? Does such folk have the time and actually spends the time to read "Obamacare" legislation, ignoring such folk's ability to understand it without Tea Party/GOP talking points? Does our yodeler fit the description of an "average Tea Party" folk?

By the Bybee, was an "average Tea Party" folk in as much adulation of everything Bush/Cheney 2001-2009 as was our yodeler?
 

I don't know if and when I'll get around to reading Hanah's article, but I wonder if it addresses the time commitment that a Congressman (personally, not his staff) would have to make to not only read but understand all bills before voting on them.

I don't know if Hanah has practiced law and been involved with complex legal documentation for significant corporate business transactions that are executed by corporate officers and perhaps voted on by Boards of Directors, but how many corporate executives (or directors) take the time to actually read the documentation in its entirety and actually understand each and every document that has been prepared by (hopefully) competent counsel on both sides of the transaction? With respect to Congressional legislation, times have changed over the past 200+ years such that staffs are required to assist Congressmen. Current day Congressmen have the same 24 hours a day that Congressmen had back when the population of America was only 4 million or so (now 300+ million) with expansion to and into the Pacific Ocean in a much more crowded and interdependent world.
 

When Ms Volokh speaks about "reading" the bills, for it to mean much, there has to be some degree of understanding involved. I can "read" a physics textbook, and it won't mean much to me in various cases.

For instance, she notes that there were some unintended consequences apparently in the health bill. But, as suggested by Justice Breyer's new book, this is true in many cases, even when legislators closely read the bills in question.

I think ultimately we are debating degree here, particularly with the level of material involved. This is true even if you want much less than there is now.
 

Joe's comment:

"For instance, she notes that there were some unintended consequences apparently in the health bill."

on Hanah's article reminds me of W. C. Fields' "I'm looking for loopholes" when asked what he was looking for while leafing through the bible. Isn't that what we attorneys are trained to do in representing a client's interests? Just imagine the number of attorneys looking for loopholes in the Obamacare legislation - never mind constitutional scholars claiming it contains unconstitutional provisions. All those billable hours might lead to an economic recovery - at least for the legal profession.
 

Shag from Brookline said...

How can one describe an "average Tea Party" folk?

Essentially the old Reagan conservative majority. You can find my summaries of the polling data here, here and here in chronological order as the movement grew.

This is why Tea Party rallies most closely resemble PTA meetings.
 

Joe said...

When Ms Volokh speaks about "reading" the bills, for it to mean much, there has to be some degree of understanding involved. I can "read" a physics textbook, and it won't mean much to me in various cases.

This is a fault of the drafters of the law and not our representatives. If my college graduate representative cannot understand the bill, he needs to vote no and tell them to start over again.
 

I don't know if our yodeler can sing, but his comment that:

"This is why Tea Party rallies most closely resemble PTA meetings."

got me toe-tapping and imagining Sarah Palin doing a parody [on SNL?] of "Harper Valley PTA." I've been to a few PTA meetings going back 30 years or so and didn't have much confidence in them and can understand the comparison to Tea Party rallies. But my recollection of analyses of Tea Party membership is that most members attending PTA meetings would be grand- or great-grandparents.
 

The goals set forth in Hanah’s article, which I only skimmed, are laudable, but I am not sure that requiring all members to read every bill is the most effective way to achieve them. I am not sure, for example, that members would have caught the error in the health care bill that she mentions. A more useful requirement is to make bills available online so that thousands of interested citizens (some of whom undoubtedly will know more about the subject than members of Congress) can look for errors. How about a notice and comment period where citizens can make their views known regarding a bill?
 

How about a notice and comment period where citizens can make their views known regarding a bill?

I strongly agree with this.
 

mls' observation:

"A more useful requirement is to make bills available online so that thousands of interested citizens (some of whom undoubtedly will know more about the subject than members of Congress) can look for errors. How about a notice and comment period where citizens can make their views known regarding a bill?"

cannot be readily dismissed. But for legislation to be effective, often timing is important. Consider the time factors required for administrative regulations and apply them to legislation under Bush/Cheney in late 2008 and under Obama in 2009-2010, in addition to an opposing political party in Congress seeking to delay legislation.

By the Bybee, let's say mls' notice procedure alerts some interested experts, e.g., lawyers representing clients that might be impacted, such that they see loopholes that they could drive their clients' trucks through. Why would they speak up? As noted in an earlier comment, think of W. C. Fields' "Looking for loopholes."
 

The bills are already available online. The wait period to allow public comments would be a fantastic idea and would seem to require a minor change in rules.

Sure, it might allow some people to find loopholes and prepare to exploit them, but it would also allow those parties interested in closing the loopholes some time to find them before it's too late.

Given the fact that lobbyists already do a great deal of preparing the text of these bills, I doubt the additional exposure to exploitation would be great enough to offset the improvement possible through public participation and comment.

Now we just have to have people willing to read the text. If the members of the Tea Party are to be lauded for reading the healthcare bill, but their members still say the things they do about death panels and the like, we need to devote serious attention to improving reading comprehension in the country.
 

Back in January 2009, the White House blog noted:

"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."

It would be logical if there was a time for public comment; maybe -- as Stephen Colbert said -- the two parties can work together on something there.

Each member of Congress should prominently link up to pending and recently passed legislation, providing a summary (as was done by the Dems for the health care bill) and link to the legislation. The summary should be in easy to understand language.

I have repeatedly debated with people online regarding the health law or some court ruling. Reading comprehension is often not the issue. The issue is that people often don't actually read the stuff. They still at times have strong opinions on it.

True, they aren't getting paid for it like members of Congress. They just vote them in.
 

"The bills are already available online."

Well, sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't. The notion that it ought to be optional is offensive; I'd advocate a constitutional amendment mandating it, and a cooling off period before the vote, barring the sort of supermajority vote that could only be mustered if there was actually a Congressional consensus the matter was urgent.
 

Brett wrote "Secondly, they don't have the time to read the legislation? Guess what: We don't have the time to read it, either, but we're expected to comply with it. So, don't expect any sympathy from the public on that score."

While I generally agree that the higher complexity of today's world require more complex legislation, Brett's point is a very valid one. I guess we won't have to read each and every bit of the health care bill but even the relevant parts will be quite challenging - and it will be quite a task to find out which parts are relevant.

I am working for government (in another country), and I can assure you that often times the administration has a very hard time to understand what the legislature meant when passing a bill. Thus, depending on who you talk to, you'll get different explanations about - say - new tax legislation.

On the other hand, the shorter the bill, the larger the room for interpretation, and litigation balloons. Accused of being grossly overbroad, the legislature then tries to somehow get jurisprudence incorporated and the bills grow and grow.

Often times, the very same persons who complain about over-regulation are quite adamant that specifics to their advantage be spelled out in detail.

The result is that I really wonder how anybody can be so rash as to establish a small business: There are so many regulations that inadvertantly, you'll be violating dozens of them in a single day without ever being aware of it. Fortunately, nobody else notices most of the times, and yet, if something happens, it's your fault.

It might be unfortunate that producing legislation is one of the prime indicators for a legislator to establish a record. Problems are then not "solved" by trying to improve implementation of existing regulations, instead a new regulation is tagged upon the rest. But that's not the only explanation for bills growing in numbers and in pages.

The core point is that it is so hard to strike a balance between the complexity we face and the complexity each and every one of us is able to process.
 

Brett wrote "Secondly, they don't have the time to read the legislation? Guess what: We don't have the time to read it, either, but we're expected to comply with it. So, don't expect any sympathy from the public on that score."

While I generally agree that the higher complexity of today's world requires more complex legislation, Brett's point is a very valid one. I guess we won't have to read each and every bit of the health care bill but even the relevant parts will be quite challenging - and it will be quite a task to find out which parts are relevant.

I am working for government (in another country), and I can assure you that often times we in the administration scratch our heads in trying to understand what the legislature meant when passing a bill. Thus, depending on who you talk to, you'll get different answers about the meaning of - say - new tax legislation.

On the other hand, the shorter the bill, the larger the room for interpretation, and ensuing litigation balloons. Accused of being grossly overbroad, the legislature then tries to somehow get jurisprudence incorporated and the bills grow and grow.

Often times, the very same persons who complain about over-regulation are quite adamant that specifics to their advantage be spelled out in detail.

The result is that I really wonder how anybody can be so rash as to establish a small business: There are so many regulations that inadvertantly, you'll be violating dozens of them in a single day without ever being aware of it. Fortunately, nobody else notices most of the times, and yet, if something happens, it's your fault.

It might be unfortunate that producing legislation is one of the prime indicators for a legislator to establish a record. Problems are then not "solved" by trying to improve implementation of existing regulations, instead a new regulation is tagged upon the rest. But that's not the only explanation for bills growing in numbers and in pages.

The core point is that it is so hard to strike a balance between the complexity we face and the complexity each and every one of us is able to process.
 

Perhaps Brett with his:

"I'd advocate a constitutional amendment mandating it, and a cooling off period before the vote, barring the sort of supermajority vote that could only be mustered if there was actually a Congressional consensus the matter was urgent."

might provide the language for such a proposed amendment that would be simple to understand and implement. A "cooling off period" might permit for political shenanigans, like "just say no," or wait till an election. As to an actual "Congressional consensus" of urgency, consider the rush to go to wars after 9/11, the Patriot Act, and other action that received little debate. A "cooling off period" might be overcome by a "patriotic" consensus. After all, urgency may be in the eye of the politician unless carefully defined. Such a proposed amendment might indeed end up with loopholes.
 

Brett wrote "Secondly, they don't have the time to read the legislation? Guess what: We don't have the time to read it, either, but we're expected to comply with it. So, don't expect any sympathy from the public on that score."

While I generally agree that the higher complexity of today's world requires more complex legislation, Brett's point is a very valid one. I guess you won't have to read each and every bit of the health care bill but even the relevant parts will be quite challenging - and it will be quite a task to find out which parts are relevant.

I am working for government (in another country), and I can assure you that often times we in the administration scratch our heads in trying to understand what the legislature meant when passing a bill. Thus, depending on who you talk to, you'll get different explanations about - say - new tax legislation.

On the other hand, the shorter the bill, the larger the room for interpretation, and ensuing litigation balloons. Accused of being grossly overbroad, the legislature then tries to somehow get jurisprudence incorporated, and the bills grow and grow.

Often times, the very same persons who complain about over-regulation are quite adamant that specifics to their advantage be spelled out in detail.

The result is that I really wonder how anybody can be so rash as to establish a small business: There are so many and complex regulations that inadvertantly, you'll be violating dozens of them in a single day without ever being aware of it. Fortunately, nobody else notices most of the times, and yet, if something happens, it's your fault.

It might be unfortunate that producing legislation is one of the prime indicators for a legislator to prove a record. Problems are then not "solved" by trying to improve implementation of existing regulations, instead a new one is tagged upon the rest. But that's not the only explanation for bills growing in numbers and in pages.

The core point is that it is so hard to strike a balance between the complexity we face and the complexity each and every one of us is able to process.
 

Brett wrote "Secondly, they don't have the time to read the legislation? Guess what: We don't have the time to read it, either, but we're expected to comply with it. So, don't expect any sympathy from the public on that score."

While I generally agree that the higher complexity of today's world requires more complex legislation, Brett's point is a very valid one. I guess you won't have to read each and every bit of the health care bill but even the relevant parts will be quite challenging - and it will be quite a task to find out which parts are relevant.

I am working for government (in another country), and I can assure you that often times we in the administration scratch our heads in trying to understand what the legislature meant when passing a bill. Thus, depending on who you talk to, you'll get different explanations about - say - new tax legislation.

On the other hand, the shorter the bill, the larger the room for interpretation, and ensuing litigation balloons. Accused of being grossly overbroad, the legislature then tries to somehow get jurisprudence incorporated, and the bills grow and grow.

Often times, the very same persons who complain about over-regulation are quite adamant that specifics to their advantage be spelled out in detail.

The result is that I really wonder how anybody can be so rash as to establish a small business: There are so many and complex regulations that inadvertantly, you'll be violating dozens of them in a single day without ever being aware of it. Fortunately, nobody else notices most of the times, and yet, if something happens, it's your fault.

It might be unfortunate that producing legislation is one of the prime indicators for a legislator to prove a record. Problems are then not "solved" by trying to improve implementation of existing regulations, instead a new one is tagged upon the rest. But that's not the only explanation for bills growing in numbers and in pages.

The core point is that it is so hard to strike a balance between the complexity we face and the complexity each and every one of us is able to process.
 

Brett wrote "Secondly, they don't have the time to read the legislation? Guess what: We don't have the time to read it, either, but we're expected to comply with it. So, don't expect any sympathy from the public on that score."

While I generally agree that the higher complexity of today's world requires more complex legislation, Brett's point is a very valid one. I guess you won't have to read each and every bit of the health care bill but even the relevant parts will be quite challenging - and it will be quite a task to find out which parts are relevant.

I am working for government (in another country), and I can assure you that often times we in the administration scratch our heads in trying to understand what the legislature meant when passing a bill. Thus, depending on who you talk to, you'll get different explanations about - say - new tax legislation.

On the other hand, the shorter the bill, the larger the room for interpretation, and ensuing litigation balloons. Accused of being grossly overbroad, the legislature then tries to somehow get jurisprudence incorporated, and the bills grow and grow.

Often times, the very same persons who complain about over-regulation are quite adamant that specifics to their advantage be spelled out in detail.

The result is that I really wonder how anybody can be so rash as to establish a small business: There are so many and complex regulations that inadvertantly, you'll be violating dozens of them in a single day without ever being aware of it. Fortunately, nobody else notices most of the times, and yet, if something happens, it's your fault.

It might be unfortunate that producing legislation is one of the prime indicators for a legislator to prove a record. Problems are then not "solved" by trying to improve implementation of existing regulations, instead a new one is tagged upon the rest. But that's not the only explanation for bills growing in numbers and in pages.

The core point is that it is so hard to strike a balance between the complexity we face and the complexity each and every one of us is able to process.
 

Brett wrote "Secondly, they don't have the time to read the legislation? Guess what: We don't have the time to read it, either, but we're expected to comply with it. So, don't expect any sympathy from the public on that score."

While I generally agree that the higher complexity of today's world requires more complex legislation, Brett's point is a very valid one. I guess you won't have to read each and every bit of the health care bill but even the relevant parts will be quite challenging - and it will be quite a task to find out which parts are relevant.

I am working for government (in another country), and I can assure you that often times we in the administration scratch our heads in trying to understand what the legislature meant when passing a bill. Thus, depending on who you talk to, you'll get different explanations about - say - new tax legislation.

On the other hand, the shorter the bill, the larger the room for interpretation, and ensuing litigation balloons. Accused of being grossly overbroad, the legislature then tries to somehow get jurisprudence incorporated, and the bills grow and grow.

Often times, the very same persons who complain about over-regulation are quite adamant that specifics to their advantage be spelled out in detail.

The result is that I really wonder how anybody can be so rash as to establish a small business: There are so many and complex regulations that inadvertantly, you'll be violating dozens of them in a single day without ever being aware of it. Fortunately, nobody else notices most of the times, and yet, if something happens, it's your fault.

It might be unfortunate that producing legislation is one of the prime indicators for a legislator to prove a record. Problems are then not "solved" by trying to improve implementation of existing regulations, instead a new one is tagged upon the rest. But that's not the only explanation for bills growing in numbers and in pages.

The core point is that it is so hard to strike a balance between the complexity we face and the complexity each and every one of us is able to process.
 

"The notion that it ought to be optional is offensive; I'd advocate a constitutional amendment.."

I agree wholeheartedly, but I'm not sure an amendment is necessary. Make it a standard rule in each house of Congress and that should be sufficient.

Unless of course you don't trust Congress to do something that would be beneficial to the people...oh, okay, I see your reasoning now. Amendment ho! :)
 

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