Friday, October 09, 2009

The "Read the Bills" Debate

For those of you who don't know, there is currently a debate going about whether or not Congressmen should be expected to have read and understood the bills they vote in favor of. One argument against is the notion that government would "come to a standstill" if such a requirement were made.

Why? It is my understanding that the day-to-day functioning of government, the execution of the government's duties, is carried out by the executive branch. That is to say, the President, not Congress. The job of Congress is to tell the President precisely what his job is. In the absence of input from Congress, the executive branch is perfectly capable of continuing to do its job according to the most recent input. The only possible shutdown of government could occur if the money runs out, and Congress does not authorize appropriations... but this is an extreme example, and while Congress likes to make budgets complex in order to micromanage the job of the executive branch (and is perfectly within their rights to do so), if they find that no agreement can be reached in Congress over a complex budget, a simple budget, or simply a repeat of the previous year until further instructions are sent, could easily suffice.

What about emergencies? Once again, that is the province of the executive branch. The President already has, in the Constitution itself, the authority to respond to emergencies of a military nature without the leave of Congress (though Congress must ratify his actions by providing the funding to continue once they are able to do so).

Legislation and execution are not the same thing, and the two functions are wisely separated. Can someone describe to me exactly how a slowing of the legislative process would bring government to a halt? Can someone give me an example of how an extremely lengthy bill might need to be passed before it can be read?

No comments: