Thinking Out Loud: Treating Congress Like the Rest of Us

“We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” – Rep. Nancy Pelosi on the Affordable Care Act

Love him or hate him, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced an amendment to the Constitution that every member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, should support.  It reads: “Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress.”

His intent is to end the practice of Congress exempting itself from the laws and regulations it passes that govern the rest of us, which — and this will no doubt surprise many Americans — Congress does all the time.  Among those exemptions are, believe it or not, civil rights laws and workplace safety regulations.

And also Obamacare, which was the impetus for Senator Paul’s amendment.  Congress, having passed the 2,000 page Obamacare bill (without a single Republican vote), never found the time to read it (Hey, it was 2,000 pages long!) until, apparently, recently when its members discovered to their horror that they and their staffs were also subject to Obamacare’s mandatory health care exchanges, meaning they would have to give up their Cadillac health plans and join Obamacare.   Outraged, they demanded that President Obama either exempt them from the requirement or financially subsidize their Obamacare coverage.  Obama acquiesced to the latter, which means that all members of Congress and their staffs will receive an Obamacare financial subsidy, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, that those same taxpayers do not receive.  This so outraged many Republicans that they demanded the removal of this preferential treatment for Congress as one of their negotiating positions over ending the government shutdown.

Rand has also proposed a Senate resolution that would forbid the Senate from voting for or against legislation until its members have actually had the time to read that legislation.  He asks that all legislation be posted online and that the Senate is in session for at least one day for every 20 pages included in the legislation.  So, for example, if the bill is 100 pages long, the Senate must be in session for five days.  Pace Nancy Pelosi, the whole idea is for our legislators to actually understand what is in the bills before they vote on them.   Paul can’t offer that resolution in the House of Representatives — he’s not a member — but if it catches on in the Senate, hopefully the House will follow suit.

Granted, many bills coming out of Congress today are thousands of pages long, meaning our legislators would have to be in session for months, even years, to fulfill Paul’s resolution.

Or, as Senator Paul no doubt intends, Congress could start writing shorter, less complicated laws.