Downsize DC: Wisdom From the Past

I'm just going to quote the Downsize dispatch:

"Mr. Speaker, today the Chief Executive sent to this House of Representatives a . . . bill for immediate enactment. The author of this bill seems to be unknown. No one has told us who drafted the bill. There appears to be a printed copy at the speakers desk, but no printed copies are available for the House Members. The bill has been driven through the House with cyclonic speed after 40 minutes debate, 20 minutes for the minority and 20 minutes for the majority. I have demanded a roll call, but have been unable to get the attention of the Chair. Others have done the same . . .

"I want to put myself on record against procedure of this kind and against the use of such methods in passing legislation affecting millions of lives and billions of dollars. It is safe to say that in normal times. after careful study of a printed copy and after careful debate and consideration, this bill would never have passed this House or any other House. Its passage could be accomplished only by rapid procedure, hurried and hectic debate, and a general rush for voting without roll call.

"I am suspicious of this railroading of bills through our House of Representatives, and I refuse to vote for a measure unseen and unknown. ... I want the RECORD to show that I was, and am, against this bill and this method of procedure; and I believe no good will come out of it for America. We must not abdicate our power to exercise judgment. We must not allow ourselves to be swept off our feet by hysteria, and we must not let the power of the Executive paralyze our legislative action. If we do, it would be better for us to resign and go home-and save the people the salary they are paying us.

"I look forward to that day when we shall read the bill we are considering, and see the author of the bill stand before the House and explain it, and then, after calm deliberation and sober judgment- after full and free debate-I hope to see sane and sensible legislation passed which will lift America out of this panic and disaster into which we were plunged.”

Powerful. We couldn't say it better ourselves. But who said it, and when? Was it Ron Paul on the Patriot Act? Dennis Kucinich on the Iraq Resolution?

Actually, these words were spoken by Rep. Ernest Lundeen from Minnesota in March, 1933 upon passage of the Emergency Banking Relief Act.

This was the act which, among other things, authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to steal gold from the American people. The people received the "equivalent" of their gold in paper money, which was later devalued. 75 years later, America is still drowning in inflation, and it's getting worse. We must restore the freedom of the people to to use gold, or any other commodity they mutually agree to, as money once again. Please tell Congress to pass the Honest Money Act.

But the power of Rep. Lundeen's words resonate even today. The worst bills Congress passes are the ones they rush through unread with little or no time for debate. And in 2007, that was how virtually every bill was passed. In 2007, Congress was in session for 39 weeks. The figures are imprecise, but on an "average" day the House passed three bills amounting to about 100 pages of legislation.

The Senate's pace was slower. Sometimes they spent a whole week debating one bill, and then passed dozens of bills the following week. But on an average day in session, the Senate managed to push through 1.4 bills and 70 pages of legislation.

Of course, there are no "average" days and no "average" bills, but it is clear that neither chamber takes the time to read and seriously deliberate the bills they pass. Many sail through the House with "suspend the rules and pass" procedures, while in the Senate many bills pass with "unanimous consent," without the Senators even knowing what they consented to.

We can't under-estimate the harm that unread bills have inflicted on the Republic. The Patriot Act was passed in a rush with scant opposition, and Patriot Act II was passed before its supporters discovered shocking provisions in it. The Real ID Act was attached to a bill funding the troops and sailed through the Senate unanimously, giving the people no chance to react or respond. And as we now know, the disastrous 1933 Emergency Banking Act was passed in a similar fashion.

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We can put an end to this. We can tell Congress what Rep. Lundeen said 75 years ago, and demand that they introduce and pass the Read the Bills Act. You can do so here.

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