If you’re looking for something to read that will keep you occupied for a good long while, the obvious choice is Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” which runs more than 1,200 pages. Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, you could curl up with the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by Congress last week.
It will take you a lot longer, because it takes up 2,232 pages. If that sounds daunting, here’s an enticement: Lots of people have read “War and Peace,” but you might be the first to get through this legislation.
During the debate, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer hoisted the bill onto a table and issued an invitation: “I ask any member, any member of this House, to join me in the well if you’ve read this bill.” He got no takers, and he acknowledged, “I have not read this bill.” President Donald Trump grudgingly signed it Friday while noting, “Nobody read it.” Said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., “It’s not what’s in the bill that I have a problem with, it’s what I don’t know is in it.”
We give credit to Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the Freedom Caucus, for a valiant effort. He burned the midnight oil but got only about a third of the way through it. The Washington Post calculated that any member determined to know what was in the legislation “would have needed to skip sleep and cover 131 pages an hour between its Wednesday evening introduction and House passage Thursday afternoon.”
Republicans may get primary responsibility for approving this surprise package, but Democrats can’t claim the high moral ground. When the Affordable Care Act was speeding through Congress under President Barack Obama, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was one of many Republicans who complained of excessive haste for a 2,300-page document.
If you’re pulling the Federalist Papers off the shelf to look up the part about Congress’ responsibility to approve legislation whose full contents are unknown, don’t bother. This custom was not part of the process the framers envisioned. But when members are especially eager to get a bill passed, they are often willing to take it on faith that the parts they haven’t had time to inspect are tolerable.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE