For the second Congress in a row, the House has adopted my reforms to make Congress more transparent and accessible to Americans. Writing legislation in a way that’s more readable will help representatives and their staffs fulfill their responsibility to review legislation before they vote on it, and it will empower our constituents to hold Congress accountable.–Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)
Making Congress more transparent and accessible to Americans by writing legislation in a way that’s more readable sounds good, but I didn’t notice any evidence of it during the 113th Congress. What can Rep. Amash mean?
Amash notes three reforms:
- Legislation must be printed with references to the portion of the U.S. Code, public laws, or statutes at large that the legislation amends.
- Legislation that is reported by House committees must include the entire sections of law that the legislation amends.
- House officials are to work toward producing machine-readable documents.
These rules are unlikely to do much to help the public understand legislation, however well meaning. The real purpose of legislation has been too often obscured by misleading bill titles, false claims, and complex text. Rep. Reed’s claim that he is protecting Social Security by making it more difficult to qualify for disability is tragically misleading, heartless. The adoption of “dynamic scoring”–voodoo economics–is an example of how the impact of bills will be obfuscated in the future. As Paul Krugman observed, CBO estimates have been useful; henceforth they will be near worthless.
Here is an excerpt of Rep. Amash’s statement:
The first two reforms aim to make legislation easier for representatives and the American public to read. Legislation must be printed with references to the portion of the U.S. Code, public laws, or statutes at large that the legislation amends. These references will make it easier to figure out what proposed legislation does because the references often point to sources on the Internet and in other locations available to the public.
Another reform from Amash requires legislation that is reported by House committees—where some of the most complicated bills originate—to include the entire sections of law that the legislation amends. Already, committee-reported bills include the equivalent of “track changes” in reports accompanying the bills to help make clear what laws the bills amend. However, those track changes often don’t include enough surrounding text to make the legislation’s impact obvious to readers. Amash’s second reform will help contextualize committee-reported bills’ changes to existing law by requiring the inclusion of that surrounding text in committee reports.
Finally, Amash wrote a provision in the House Rules that instructs appropriate House officials to work toward producing machine-readable documents. Those documents include embedded tags that let computer programs quickly and easily make sense of the contents of those documents.
Like Rep. Reed, there is much Rep. Amash doesn’t tell us.
© William Hungerford – January 2015