Let’s Test Congress

You walk into the first day of a class that you cannot drop.  The professor hands out a 1000 page book to everyone and says, “In two weeks there will be a test on this book.  Study on your own or in groups.  Your performance on that test will determine your grade in this class.”

There would be a WalMart stampede to the dean’s office if this were to occur.  Let’s say that the college or university let the professor conduct his class that way despite the student protests.  Some students would likely fail.  They might have to take the class again (from a different professor) or take a serious hit to their GPA, or even have to prolong their university career by another semester.  The hardships could be severe, but would not likely be fatal or career ending.

What if the professor said, “Just show up to take the test and you will pass the class.  You don’t have to know any of the book’s contents.  Oh—and you can copy answers from other students’ tests.”  Who would study?  Who would not pass under those circumstances?

Now let’s take a look at Congress—both the House and the Senate.  Someone comes in and plops a 1000 page bill (about the current size of the American Clean Energy and Security Act) on a legislator’s desk and says, “Next week there is a vote on this bill.  This is an emergency situation—it cannot wait.  Be prepared to vote.”  With everything going on and all of the political intrigue on all kinds of issues, who will read the bill?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just go to the smart kid in your party and copy his answer?

In the case of Congress, if a Senator or Representative does not do his or her homework and simply votes, there is the possibility that their vote will change many lives dramatically.  They are voting on issues that may cause someone to be arrested or increase basic living expenses dramatically or drive people out of business or cause some kind of discrimination.  It is very important for our elected representatives to actually read and know about what they are passing into law.

How do we fix this?  I propose that before a bill could be put up for a vote that anyone who wants to vote on it has to pass a test on the contents of that bill.  At least they would have to go to class and pay attention to what is said.  You can’t make a requirement that the majority of Representatives or Senators pass the test, because flunking the test would be quickly seized as a political opportunity to stall legislation.

The legislators might even have to undergo more than one round of testing—after the bill is read and elected officials realize what they are proposing, amendments could be offered.  A new test would be in order, but if the elected representatives have been paying attention, they really wouldn’t have to study for the new test.

If someone is going to sign their name to a bill, for example, that has been shown to likely double the cost of doing business for family-owned farms in the midwest (which might put farmers out of business or increase the cost of food), they ought to know that they are doing that.  If a new bureaucracy needs to be set up to enforce the bill, the legislators need to know that, along with some realistic assessment of costs for that bureaucracy.  If there are any additions to a bill that are completely unrelated to the title of the bill—for example, IMF funding in a bill which funds the troops in our “overseas contingency operations,” they need to know that.

Of course, I have a hidden agenda.  You could make the Legislators take the test, but the real goal is to make them actually read the content and think about what laws they are passing.  Hopefully, in “memorizing” some of the details, it would sink into the brains of the brighter among them what they are actually enacting.  They would actually be making an informed decision.

There are several details that would need to be worked out in this testing scheme.  However, a politically neutral company could work out those details and administer the tests.  Yes, it would cost valuable taxpayer dollars, but I think it would end up with a sustainable net saving of dollars to the taxpayer in the long run.  It might also save the citizens of this country a lot of pain and aggravation from ill conceived and little understood legislation (that is frequently rushed through these days in the guise of EMERGENCY).  I would even bet that there would be enough support for the idea that a fund could be established that ordinary citizens or PACs or other political organizations or voters’ rights groups would donate to that would get the ball rolling.

I wouldn’t go to a doctor who passed his tests in college by showing up for them.  I resent having to be controlled by laws enacted by elected officials who don’t even read the rules they are making.

So I say . . . bring on the tests.

Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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