Column Date 2005-12-14

Leave No Congressman Behind

Politics aside, Michael Moore’s film, Farenheit 9/11, gives us a rare insight into the workings of Congress.

One thing I learned, for instance, is that our congressmen sometimes don’t actually read the bills they vote on.

That’s what Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan) said happened with the “Patriot Act.” When asked why lawmakers were voting on a bill most of them hadn’t read, the chairman of the Rules Committee, Representative David Dreier, (R- California), replied, ‘It's not unprecedented.’

I always knew we had a reading problem in this country, but I never figured it went all the way up to the top.

Since Congressional reading levels are clearly unsatisfactory, I think we need some simple rules. So, in the true spirit of the 108th Congress, I hereby announce a major educational initiative: “Leave No Congressman Behind.”

Rule #1: Before being allowed to cast a vote, all congressmen and senators must show that they have actually read the bill in question. No reading, no vote.

Perhaps a simple sworn affidavit is enough, or we could request a copy of every senator’s diary to make sure he’d scheduled enough time to sit down and carefully go over the bill. (The complex “Patriot Act” ran some three hundred and forty-two pages and would take even the fastest reader many hours. This rule might have the secondary benefit of making bills shorter, clearer, and more succinct. One can only dream.)

Rule #2: Every congressman and senator must take a simple Legislation Comprehension Test (LCT) before voting on a bill. This is to make sure that our representatives actually understand what they’re voting on.

The test would require that they identify the key ideas presented in the bill, and then re-write those ideas in their own words. The test would be administered by the Jimmy Carter Center.

Rule #3: If a congressman or senator fails the LCT and doesn’t really understand a bill after reading it, he or she must begin remedial reading/comprehension classes within one week or lose the right to vote on any bill. The classes will be free. Daily attendance will be carefully checked.

Note: to move up a grade from Elementary to Advanced Remedial Reading, every congressmen must take a special test called “Barometer to Upgrade Reading Progress” (BURP). This test is given just once a year and no congressman will be promoted to the advanced class without a passing grade. Age, seniority and number of years spent in the elementary class do not matter.

A final word to those congressmen who may see (or have somebody read them) this column: please don’t get too upset.

Remember that reading is at the very heart of the democratic process.

And besides, we’ll be grading your tests on a curve.

©2004 Peter Tannen