Modern legislation should be more concise
The U.S. Constitution is less than 4,700 words long. The body of its text was handwritten on four pages.
Legislation today is often hundreds, if not thousands, of pages in length, and many times is released to Congress and the public less than one day before it is voted on.
There is something wrong when a government established by such an elegantly concise document can routinely pass such large, clumsy pieces of legislation. It is absurd that the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act can be summarized in a few simple slide shows by the news media but needs 2,409 pages of barely comprehensible legal text to be passed into law.
Lawyers and judges who will one day have to argue over this bill deserve everyone’s pity.
The bill is exceptionally long, but it is far from being the only bill printed on four figures worth of pages.
Another piece of legislation is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill. At 1,100 pages, the bill was released to both Congress and the public a mere 13 hours before it was taken up on the House floor; it was passed that same day.
This sort of time frame is ridiculous. There is no practical way that anyone, much less a busy senator or congressman, could have read and considered the bill before it was voted on. Even though the bill was made available online to any member of the public who wished to read it, there was not enough time for the American people to familiarize themselves with a piece of legislation meant to have a huge impact on their everyday lives.
Looking around the country today, it’s apparent that American citizens are unfamiliar with the inner workings of the government or the legislation that our representatives must consider on a daily basis. Few people even pretend to be familiar with anything beyond the barest basics of major bills.
As no one reads bills in their entirety, it’s not a stretch to conclude that lawmakers aren’t always sure of what they are voting on. All they can do is trust that nobody slid something unwanted and unwelcome into the bill and that the bill is indeed what they assume it is.
As technology allows the government to become more and more accessible, the American people are putting less effort into taking advantage of that availability.
When this country was founded, there was no way for everyone to have access to each and every piece of legislation being considered by Congress. Now, these bills can often be found online.
Few people, however, take the effort to actually read the bills and know what is going on in the government. Instead, they listen to pundits such as Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter and are content to accept the opinions these biased sources feed them.
The lengths of legislation must be shortened, and the American people — along with their elected officials — need to take the time to read them.
Casey Goodwin is an engineering freshman and may be reached at [email protected]