Congress: “Do As I Say…”

According to the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, one of the major changes made to the Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA)  affecting most mortgage loans was to institute a seven-day waiting period after the receipt by the consumer of TIL documents.  At any time during the loan process, upon any changes to the APR, there kicks in an additional three-day waiting period.  The purpose of this legislation was to enable consumers the opportunity to be fully informed of their loan terms prior to signing documents, and to thus minimize the perpetration of fraud by mortgage lenders and brokers.

In a bill currently pending before the House of Representatives, H.B. 554, it would be required that all non-emergency legislation be posted online at least 72 hours before consideration in the House in order to allow the public sufficient time to be aware of exactly what it is they’ll be paying for.  Unfortunately, neither party has been very fond of such legislation while they’ve been in power, and this time is no exception.  

The unprecedented level of spending by Congress over this past year is placing a tremendous burden on all of us going forward.  We, and our children, will be required to pay for and to live with the unintended consequences of the bills that have been passed by Senate and House members who’ve admittedly never read the bills they’ve voted on.  I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t believe we ought to know what’s in those bills, as most of them don’t either – and it’s their job.

Can you imagine your boss’ response if you told him it was just too hard to understand the documents you’re responsible for so you’d skip the reading part?  Maybe you could have the special-interest groups that wrote them give you a summery to examine; you know, a CliffsNotes version.  Senator Tom Carper recently explained to a reporter that legislative language is just too difficult to understand, even for a seasoned Senator, so no one he knows actually reads the bills.

If it’s good policy (and I question that it is) to require by law that individuals taking out a mortgage loan have a mandated period of time to review the information before committing themselves to the terms of the contract, why would the same not be true for those who are funding (taxpayers) the “contracts” being entered into by a third-party (Congress) on their behalf?  It seems to me that the necessity of such review periods would be even more important when one is charged with spending someone else’s money.  I‘m sure they‘re just as careful with ours as they are with their own, though, don’t you think?

Not only should both houses of Congress be required to post bills online for public review (how about the same seven days Congress thinks is necessary for a a TIL document that is typically one page long?), but they should also be required to include the estimated costs to taxpayers.  I mean the real cost.  How about implementing one of those mandates Congress placed on the credit card companies as well: include in all legislation the period of time it will take to pay off the debt if a specific minimum payment level is maintained.  As in the credit card legislation, this should include any interest on debt that must be incurred in order to finance the bill.

Interestingly enough, the very individuals just “looking out for the little guy” seem to be more interested in protecting him from himself than from themselves, and fail to see just who is the greater threat.

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