Hawley, Marshall are right to want nitty-gritty of laws. But this demand lacks detail | Opinion

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Sens. Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall, Republicans from Missouri and Kansas respectively, have signed on to legislation that would make it mandatory to give them and their colleagues the time to actually read and think about the bills that come before Congress.

Some version of this “Read the Bill” legislation has been around for years, but this time the backers — led by Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott — are particularly peeved by the rushed December passage of a $1.7 trillion omnibus budget bill, more than 4,000 pages long, in a last-minute attempt to avoid a Christmastime government shutdown.

“The bill was an atrocity, and we were learning about all the wasteful provisions contained in it up until and after voting on its passage,” Marshall said in a statement released by Scott’s office. “Sadly, this happens far too often.”

He added that it’s time “to ensure lawmakers are given a proper amount of time to assess legislation, particularly for reckless spending measures that negatively impacts America’s fiscal health.” (Hawley, for whatever reason, didn’t provide a statement.)

You know what? On the face of it, this seems entirely reasonable.

Senators have one job, after all, and that’s to vote up or down on the bills that come before them. It’s not unreasonable for them to want the opportunity to know what is in that legislation, and perhaps to even get input from their constituents and other stakeholders. Democracy shouldn’t be a rubber stamp.

And details are important.

But if Republicans in Washington really want to get into the nitty-gritty details of their work, they can start by practicing what they preach.

There is still pretty substantial room for improvement on that front. The day after Scott announced the “Read the Bill” legislation, Marshall and Missouri’s Sen. Eric Schmitt signed onto a letter — along with nearly two dozen other GOP senators — telling President Joe Biden they won’t vote to raise the nation’s debt limit without some spending cuts or “structural reforms” that slow the federal government’s spending.

“Americans are keenly aware that their government is not only failing to work for them — but actively working against them,” the senators wrote. “We do not intend to vote for a debt ceiling increase without structural reforms to address current and future fiscal realities and manage out-of-control government policies.”

What cuts do they want? Heck if I know. The letter doesn’t actually contain specifics. We’re supposed to guess, apparently.

That’s a problem.

Corporations, special interests and their lobbyists are the actual authors of much of the legislation introduced in Congress, word for word. If lawmakers don’t know what’s in a bill, it’s often because they didn’t write it.

Technically, the federal government has already breached the debt limit. The Treasury Department can get by with some accounting tricks for the next few months, but the clock is now ticking before the United States starts to default on its debt obligations. But Republicans don’t want to fix the problem unless spending cuts are made, but they’re not providing details.

Why would they? Any cuts they propose will probably not be that popular — or easy. There has been talk of slicing Social Security and Medicare, but GOP leaders seem to understand that would be a political disaster for them. They still want credit for fiscal restraint, though, but only in general terms.

“The public doesn’t like debt and deficits, but it doesn’t like spending cuts or tax increases, either,” the Brookings Institution’s William G. Gale told The New York Times. Rock, meet hard place.

Which leaves the Republican Party in the odd position of taking a hostage — the nation’s economic health — with a ransom note that demands only makes the vaguest of demands.

And that leads us back to the “Read the Bill” legislation that Hawley and Marshall support. It’s right and good that U.S. senators should know what they’re voting for when they vote for it. But they also have to know what they want, and be able to say it out loud. They can’t just demand details. They have to provide some, too.