Thursday, December 02, 2004

My letter to Congressman Tom Petri

Rep. Tom Petri
2462 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Petri,

My favorite author, Robert A. Heinlein, wrote a piece some years ago called “The Happy Days Ahead.” In it a black woman Vice President of the United States becomes Chief Executive when the President dies in a plane crash. The story is a fantasy, if you will, about restructuring the government of the United States into something that would be more recognizable to Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.

I was reminded of that story when I read about the latest $380 billion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress. It was about 3,200 pages, or so I hear. I also heard that on page 1,112 of that bill was a provision that would have allowed appropriations committee chairmen, or their "agents," to examine the income tax returns of individual Americans.

No one seemed to know how that provision snuck in there. This, of course, suggests that not a single Congressman read the bill in its entirety.

This is rather poignantly ironic, since we plebeians are admonished, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” This episode suggests to me that it would be well for Congress to read its own legislation before foisting it on us.

But back to “Happy Days.” Heinlein’s black woman President has a meeting with an old family friend who happens to be a Senator. She asks him for a favor, and he asks for one in return. His favor was the far more interesting one. He asked that the President endorse the Senator’s Constitutional Amendment, “The Plain English Amendment.” From the story:

“It permits a citizen to challenge the Constitutionality of any law or regulation, Federal or any lesser authority, on the grounds that it is ambivalent, equivocal, or cannot be understood by a person of average intelligence...Paragraph three defines and limits the tests that may be used to test the challenged law. The fourth paragraph excludes law students, law school graduates, lawyers, judges, and uncertified j.p.’s from being test subjects.”

The Senator goes on to say that, “Lawyers are going to hate this...and the Congress and all state legislatures have a majority of lawyers.”

Here’s the connection: this Amendment could be used to challenge the Federal Budget or the IRS code. My most fervent wish for your next term in office is that you would introduce with Congressman Ron Paul a “Plain English Amendment” to the United States Constitution.

Sincerely yours,

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