Asked at a town hall meeting if he had read the Obama Health Care bill, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D- Mont.) replied, in essence, that he shouldn't be expected to waste his time reading the final bill because Congress hired "experts" to write the final bill in "statutory" language that he could not decipher.
The obvious question is; if members can't read a bill, how do they know what is - or what isn't - in the bill? The equally obvious answer is that they don't know. This brings to mind Speaker Pelosi's inane but apparently accurate statement that they needed to pass the health care bill so they could learn what was in it.
How do they make laws? The proposed legislation must have originally been discussed in common English that most congressmen can understand. However, the proposed laws leave that behind when the congressional staff "experts" convert congressional English into statutory (legal) language.
After conversion, the bills are (reportedly) too abstruse to read - but Congress votes on them anyway.
After Congress approves the unreadable bills, they go to the president for signature. Presumably, the president has the same readability problem, and he must either find "experts" to read it for him or - what usually happens - simply sign the bill without actually knowing what is in it. Do we see a pattern developing here?
After the president signs, he sends the new law to the appropriate federal agencies for implementation.
The federal bureaucracies must hire their own "statutory experts" to translate bills into regulations for applying the law. After the regulations have been created; they must - once again - be converted into legalistic language to ensure that they are properly "understood" by the public.
Now the rest of the country gets involved. Those affected by the bureaucratic regulations might range from mom-and-pop businesses to major corporations to just ordinary citizens. The big guys employ lawyers to "interpret" the rules and deal with their requirements. Smaller businesses have to pay independent "expert" consultants for help, and the rest of us will just stumble along in ignorance until the law hits us.
Of course, there are disagreements about the accuracy of the bureaucracy's interpretation of Congress's intent. Unfortunately, Congress can't be relied on for clarification because Congress never read the bill that it voted on. It becomes a case of: "I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
As a consequence of the confusion the "experts" wrote into the law, the courts are called in to referee. There is no shortage of experts around the courts: everyone speaks statutory language. Unfortunately, the experts never seem to agree about what the wording definitively means.
Some contrasts to our present system might be appropriate: The Declaration of Independence was written in long-hand by its authors, and is readable today by ordinary people. Ancient texts; such as the Bible, have been converted from the spoken word at various places and times from Hebrew, into Greek, into Latin and into English. It has been retranslated, revised and updated; and there is still considerable disagreement over what exactly it says and means. However; when compared to our law-making, the Bible is the epitome of clarity and conciseness.
We can't afford to wait for posterity to untangle the babble of our laws: we should search out and elect representatives who think, write and read using the English language.
Rod Paramoure is a retired military officer, educator and historian living in east Cobb.