I'm not an economist. Nor am I particularly an expert in government, or the constitution, or law. I am someone who attempts to keep informed, but I confess, a lot of stuff that our government does defies any attempt to keep informed.
The stimulus bill, for instance. The house drafted one enormous bill in only a couple of days, the senate drafted a different enormous bill in a similarly short time, a committee got together and melded the two into a third bill in under a week, a bill that was over a thousand pages long, that was voted on for final approval so swiftly that no average person could possibly have sat down and read every single line of this bill. I'm guessing that congress and the White House have teams to tackle the work of actually reading and writing these things; a couple of dozen people draft it, a couple of dozen people read it in chunks and give the actual lawmakers a two page memo with a lot of bullet points. It goes into law with no single legislator actually having read it.
When Enron collapsed, or the Wall Street investment firms crumbled, the CEOs were trotted before congress to be publicly berated for their irresponsibility. The CEOs often blame their woes on bad information from underlings. Congressmen rightly ask why were the CEOs collecting multimillion dollar salaries to run businesses when they now admit they didn't really understand everything that was going on.
Yet, how is our government any different? Not one elected official actually read the largest spending bill they've ever voted on. Obama is a very smart man by all accounts, but he cannot possibly be enough of a speed reader to actually go through this bill line by line and understand precisely what it is he's enacting.
I'm not defending auto industry executives, oil barons, peanut processing bosses, airline CEOs, or the titans of Wall Street, but for all the failures of their various industries, no single firm or business has ever found itself 12 trillion in debt. Where are the hearings where congressmen are called to testify before a panel of American citizens under oath and explain how they managed to run our country into the financial ditch?
Actually, minus the part about being under oath, we have the chance every two years to hold our congressmen to account. With the exception of a tiny handful of citizens, we can't be bothered. The percentage of voting age Americans who can even name their congressional representative is a joke. And, I'm no better; for all my ranting about the duty of being an informed citizen, I have representational fatigue. I can name my congressman and senators at the federal level, but I don't have a clue who represents me in Raleigh, nor can I think of the name of the mayor of my town as I type this. I'd probably recognize it if I heard it, but right now it's all lost in the brain fog.
I doubt we'll ever see another constitutional amendment passed in our lifetime, but I do have a modest proposal for a 28th amendment:
Congress shall pass no bill longer than 1oo pages, double spaced, 12 point courier font, with one inch margins on a standard sheet of legal paper (8.5x14).
This means bills like the annual budget and the stimulus bill, or funding for various wars, couldn't be voted on in huge omnibus bills that no one can possibly read. Every law would be of a size that there would be no excuse for a representative not to actually read it before passing it. Also, breaking bills up would clean out some of the crazy stuff that gets stuck in.
And, how about this for the 29th:
No representative may vote on a bill without signing an oath, under penalty of perjury, that he has read the bill in full.
I wish I could think of some amendment that would fix the American public, but perhaps that's asking too much of my brain on a lazy Sunday morning....