Monday, July 6, 2009

This weekend’s Fourth of July festivities celebrated the birth of representative government in America. As the Declaration of Independence set forth 233 years ago, our government derives its power from the consent of the governed. Such consent does not exist when legislation is purposely rammed through Congress so quickly that congressmen — let alone citizens — do not have time even to read it.

Welcome to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives. The “people’s House” is now a place where bills are voted on not only before legislators or the public have read them, but also before parts of the bills even have been written. Such was the case with a 300-page amendment to the cap-and-trade bill the House passed on June 26. The House leadership could not even produce this amendment on paper, in final form, before it was voted on.

In response to that and other recent outrageous infringements of real representative democracy, a group called Let Freedom Ring is pushing all 435 members of Congress and 100 senators to sign a pledge against such shenanigans on any health care reform bill Congress considers.

All 535 of them ought to do so.

The pledge, which can be found at, reads in part as follows: “I pledge to my constituents and the American people that I will not vote to enact any healthcare reform package that: 1) I have not read, personally, in its entirety; and 2) Has not been available, in its entirety, to the American people on the Internet for at least 72 hours, so that they can read it too.”

No simpler requirement for good government could be imagined. When what is at stake is a revolutionary change in the entire organization of 17 percent of the economy - not to mention the delivery of services that could mean the difference between life and death for millions of Americans each year - it is basic common sense to insist that our lawmakers know and understand what they are voting on - and that includes the fine print.

As it was put by Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, “there is no rational reason for not signing the pledge.”

Unfortunately, Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid say they can’t be bothered with such essentials. On June 25, both declined to promise to give the public a week to review any major health care reform. Mrs. Pelosi did not even respond to a question posed at a press briefing by Cybercast News Service about whether the Congressional Budget Office would have time to “score” the bill’s final price tag.

Such an attitude represents the height — or, rather, the depth — of irresponsibility.

It is an axiom in criminal court that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” There certainly is no excuse for lawmakers to be ignorant of the laws they would force on the rest of us. That sounds almost criminal to us.

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