Call us naive, but requesting members of Congress to read the bills they pass doesn't seem like too much to ask.

That's why the Journal Star editorial board is jumping on the bandwagon of a new movement that has drawn adherents from across the political spectrum.

Shockingly, some members of Congress are hesitant to agree.

For example, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., said, "What good is reading the bill if it's a thousand pages and you don't have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?"

From our perspective, it seems that Conyers has identified the problem: members of Congress don't know what they're voting on.

If they don't, who does?

Lobbyists, perhaps? Anonymous staffers?

Who's in charge here?

No wonder members of Congress scratch their heads when days after passage of spending bills, all sorts of last-minute wasteful insertions are discovered.

The movement was described in a column in Monday's Journal Star written by Kevin Ferris of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

One campaign in the movement calls for members of Congress to sign a pledge not to vote on health care reform until they personally have read the bill and until the final version of the bill has been posted on the Internet for 72 hours.

The congressional habit of approving massive bills inches thick that no elected members had time to read has bothered the editorial board for years. In 1998, the board opined, "The way the 105th Congress handled the $520 billion spending bill was irresponsible, dishonest, mindless and disgusting. The bill itself, which was 16 inches thick and weighed 40 pounds, is a monstrosity, something put together like the Frankenstein monster. We know this is true. Members of Congress themselves said so."

Giving the public a chance to read the legislation also holds potential. As Colin Hanna, of the conservative group Let Freedom Ring put it, "We have the technology to make complex legislation available for public and media inspection. We're not being true to the ideals of democracy if we don't take advantage of that technology."

Other organizations on the "read the bill" bandwagon are the Sunlight Foundation, the federation of U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, the Center for Responsive Politics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Taxpayers Union, who support legislation that would require all legislation to be posted online 72 hours before they are debated.

Some members of Congress have declined to sign on the grounds they refuse to sign pledges of any kind. Fine. A verbal promise would do just as well for now, followed by a vote in support of putting legislation online.

So far, Sen. Mike Johanns has signed the pledge. We'd like the rest of the Nebraska's delegation in Washington to make the same promise.


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