The Washington Post, sticking up for our poor, overworked legislators who just don't have time to read the bills they're voting on, seems to miss a rather large point:
A group of well-meaning professional activists -- and, so far, over nearly 60,000 online petitioners -- want members of Congress to sign a pledge never to vote on any bill unless they have read "every word" of it.
They have a point. But their proposal would bring government to a standstill.
The average college graduate reads about 300 words per minute. Assume that there are about 150 words per page of legislative text, a number we derived from counting the words on a few randomly chosen pages from the Waxman-Markey energy bill. To read all 1,427 pages of Waxman-Markey, it would take at least 12 hours -- tough on a tight legislative timeline. And that assumes that lawmakers can read complex bills at the same pace they do a John Grisham novel (we tried -- it's not even close).
Still doesn't sound too daunting? Consider that in the 110th Congress, the House of Representatives dealt with 7,441 bills and joint resolutions. Not all were as long as Waxman-Markey is -- the average length of laws that the 110th Congress passed was 16.7 pages. Assuming that passed bills were roughly the same size as those that didn't pass, House members would have had to read about 125,000 pages in the last session to get through every bill proposed. And that doesn't even count the 1,978 House concurrent resolutions and House simple resolutions, nor any of the amendments or the different versions of individual bills lawmakers must consider.
But if every member of Congress had to read every word of every bill, there wouldn't be nearly 7,500 bills and joint resolutions every session. There wouldn't be 1,400-page bills changing everything about the way this country approaches energy. There wouldn't be 125,000 pages for House members to read. Does the Post think that would be a bad thing? Probably so, unfortunately.