If the new Congress really wanted to do something radical -- and necessary -- it would be to enact limits on the length of proposed bills and require that they be written in plain English. Ironically, government dictates to others that they must provide guidance in understandable language. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, requires that companies disclose information to the public written in short sentences, using no jargon and employing active voice. If legislators can't explain what they want to do in 100 pages or less, they probably shouldn't be doing it. Again, the health care act tells us much about what is wrong with the process. The drafters of the legislation sought to micromanage an entire industry, with rules affecting every aspect of health care spelled out in excruciating detail.
The most important laws on our books provide simple guidance, not play-by-play scenarios of what is or is not permitted. We abolished slavery and granted former slaves the right to vote in 100 words. We guaranteed equal protection of the laws and recognized the citizenship of all persons born or naturalized in the United States in barely 80. We guaranteed women the right to vote in fewer than 40 words.
By all means, the 112th Congress should act only when the Constitution grants it the powers to do so. But let's hope that even when it has the power to act, it will do so clearly and succinctly. If we want our laws to be observed, let's make sure we can understand them first.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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