Posts Tagged ‘bad legislation’

The incompetence of lawmakers

May 31, 2010

I  was fascinated to read that while U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had roundly criticized the Arizona Immigration legislation and was supposedly reviewing it to determine a possible challenge by the U.S. federal government, he admitted that he hadn’t even read the bill.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who has been critical of Arizona’s new immigration law, said Thursday he hasn’t yet read the law and is going by what he’s read in newspapers or seen on television.

Mr. Holder is conducting a review of the law, at President Obama’s request, to see if the federal government should challenge it in court. He said he expects he will read the law by the time his staff briefs him on their conclusions.

“I’ve just expressed concerns on the basis of what I’ve heard about the law. But I’m not in a position to say at this point, not having read the law, not having had the chance to interact with people are doing the review, exactly what my position is,” Mr. Holder told the House Judiciary Committee.

However, in spite of his lack of familiarity with the wording of the legislation, Holder had lots of opinions.

This weekend Mr. Holder told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that the Arizona law “has the possibility of leading to racial profiling.” He had earlier called the law’s passage “unfortunate,” and questioned whether the law was unconstitutional because it tried to assume powers that may be reserved for the federal government.

(If we can go sideways for a minute, the following video pokes a little fun at the “haven’t read it” crowd).

(Too funny not to insert).

All of which led me to think that Mr. Holder’s (and others) lack of diligence was a reflection of a deeper problem that we have with our elected officials when it comes to talking about and voting for/against legislation that is tabled.

This has become increasingly apparent when we look at the ambitious legislation that has been passed in the U.S. in recent months.

The obvious one was the legislation to reform health care in the U.S. or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. which weighed in at over 1,000 pages of bureaucratic legalese. To the extent that a Democratic Senator said that he would not read the  the actual legislation.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D.-Del.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, told that he does not “expect” to read the actual legislative language of the committee’s health care bill because it is “confusing” and that anyone who claims they are going to read it and understand it is fooling people.

“I don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because reading the legislative language is among the more confusing things I’ve ever read in my life,” Carper told

In fact, the the Senate Finance Committee apparently never even dealt with the language in the legislation, but instead relied on the “plain English summary” of the bill. Which strikes me as being a bit problematic as who is to say how accurate the “plain English” interpretation is. Anyone who has ground their way through the bureaucratic wording inherent in most legislation soon recognizes that regardless of the understood intent of the legislation, the question is how some bureaucrat or even a court may interpret the wording at some later date. Too often the original intent is lost in the mists of time.

The recent passing of the U.S. government’s financial reform legislation is no doubt more of the same. Since many of the so-called financial experts were obviously baffled by some of the more esoteric financial transactions that contributed to the financial disaster, I can’t see where very many (if any) elected politicians voting on this legislation would have had any deep understanding of the bill’s ramifications.

The public at large just assumes that those writing the various bills have a certain amount of competence in what they do. Not always the case.

I remember – years back when I was still involved with corporate tax issues – going to a professional seminar on some esoteric tax issue where the presenters stood at the podium at one point and said flat out that they had no idea what the wording of a specific section meant. And these were the tax specialists. Obviously they weren’t getting much advice from Revenue Canada bureaucrats either. It was at that point that I wondered just what the hell I was doing there.

I think that it can be safely assumed that the MPs of the day who voted in favour of the existing tax legislation had no idea of what they were voting for at the time, and not just in regards to the more complex aspects of the Act. Their understanding of the details within the Act would have been minimal at best. They just voted the way they were told to vote.

The other side of the equation is that if the government waited until every MP had actually read the various pieces of legislation and could actually demonstrate that they understood what the wording meant, very little would ever get passed.

Of course, that could be a positive result in many cases.

Anyway, to beat the dead horse just a bit more, there are 29 bills pending in the Canadian Parliament right now. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the MPs have read what percentage of the bills.