More than 80 percent of Americans agree that Congress drafts lengthy, complex bills to hide spending on special interests and to prevent constituents from understanding what’s in them before a vote is taken, according to a new survey.
According to a Zogby poll conducted last week, 83.5 percent of respondents agreed at least “somewhat” with the lengthy-bill premise, and 61.2 percent of Americans agreed strongly. Only 14.4 percent disagreed, and just 5.8 percent did so strongly.
The question Zogby asked was: “Some contend that the reason federal legislation is often thousands of pages long is because provisions to benefit special interests can be more easily buried in long bills, and so citizens cannot decipher the legislative language quickly enough to be able to communicate support or opposition to their Senators or Members of Congress before a vote is taken. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with this opinion?”
Overwhelming support for the opinion came from every age group, race, religious faith and other demographic category, according to Zogby. In each subgroup, at least 50 percent of the respondents “somewhat” or “strongly agreed” with the statement.
Even among the 22 percent of respondents who identified their residence as “planet earth” rather than their city, town, or country, nearly 72 percent at least somewhat agreed.
Support for the statement did not depend on whether the respondent was part of the armed forces, went to church weekly or never, were liberal or conservative, hailed from a certain part of the country, practiced a particular faith, or even had a valid passport.
Nearly 82 (81.7) percent of those in the armed forces at least somewhat agreed, along with 88.7 percent of those who did not serve. Those who never went to church agreed at a level of 77.9 percent, while 81.5 percent of those who attended weekly also agreed, along with 86.3 percent of those who go more than weekly.
Liberals registered the lowest levels of support, at 66.1 percent, while moderates at least somewhat agreed 82.2 percent of the time, and conservatives did likewise 96.9 percent of the time. The ideological difference translated to political party as well, with Democrats at least somewhat agreeing 69.1 percent of the time, and Republicans agreeing 94.9 percent of the time. Independents, like moderates, fell somewhere in the middle, at 89.3 percent.
The poll was commissioned by Let Freedom Ring, Inc., a grassroots public policy organization that promotes constitutional government and economic freedom.
John Hanna, president of the group, told CNSNews.com that “virtually no demographic disagreed” with the statement and that it represented a shift in public perception over the past year
Asked whether respondents might say the same of a Republican administration and Congress, Hanna said, “I think there’s no question about it,” but he pointed to several long bills proposed by Democrats under President Obama as having turned the tide of public sentiment.
“The bank bailout –TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) — the economic stimulus, and now this health care bill,” he listed.
“Americans are realizing that members of Congress routinely do not read these bills,” he told CNSNews.com.
The final version of the bill commonly known as the economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was signed by President Obama in March and was over 400 pages long. The current iteration of health-care reform, the Senate’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which Democrats hope to pass by Christmas Eve, has topped out at over 2,000 pages. Each contains earmarks for particular congressional districts or states.
When CNSNews.com asked members of Congress whether they planned to read the full text of the health care legislation, many of them admitted they would not. In October, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he would not read the legislative text before voting it out of the Senate Finance Committee, its first step toward passage, because it was so “confusing.”
“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 CNSNews.com.
In July, CNSNews.com asked House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) whether he supported a pledge Let Freedom Ring was circulating which stipulated that the signatories would read the bill before voting on it. Hoyer laughed at the notion and said, “If every member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes.”
At a National Press Club luncheon also in July, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers (D-Mich.), also said the language in the long health care bill was Byzantine.
“What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?” he asked.
The Zogby poll also included a question that specifically referred to the health-care legislation: “Some say Senate leaders are trying to pass health care restructuring legislation too quickly and before citizens have an opportunity to understand it in detail.”
Provided with the same four options, 63 percent of respondents at least somewhat agreed. A full 91 percent of Republicans said the same, along with 68.1 percent of Independents. Only 35.2 percent of Democrats at least somewhat agree however, while the majority (61.6 percent) at least somewhat disagreed.
Democrats completed a crucial vote on the bill late Sunday night- early Monday morning, called a “cloture vote,” which ends debate on the bill in preparation for final passage. Senate Majority Leader Reid put together the 60 votes necessary to end a Republican filibuster after providing Sen. Ben Nelson’s (R-Neb.) state with additional Medicaid funding.
The Zogby poll was conducted between Dec. 15 and Dec. 18 and surveyed likely voters. The overall result carries a margin of error of +/- 1.7 percentage points, while the demographic data carry a higher margin.