We all have leisure activities, right? One of mine is to read the actual text of bills pending in Congress. Hey, I have an interest in the legislative process — and I submit you do, too.
The good news is the Library of Congress makes the full text and history of every Congressional action available online at www.thomas.gov. C-SPAN will occasionally refer viewers to the site as it broadcasts legislative debates. (And yes, I watch the debates, too.)
Think about this level of access. From the comfort of my home, I am able to watch legislators bloviate while perusing the actual text of the laws they are making. It’s live, instant, free — and free of journalistic “interpretation.” It’s source material for the body politic. It’s truly amazing.
The bad news? thomas.gov is impenetrable for the casual user. You need a degree in “Beltway” to be able to form a high-level understanding of a bill.
Consider H.R. 4853, the year-end tax bill that Congress is debating this week and which is center-stage at the moment in American politics. While everything is “there,” I defy you to gain an understanding of what the bill actually is from this link. thomas.gov gives you all the data — but in a disconnected, you-have-to-be-a-legislative-aide-to-use-the-website way.
We are so close with sites like thomas.gov to making the political process more accessible in ways that I believe fundamentally enhance our democracy. The Library of Congress needs to “bulk up” the website a little, Charles Atlas style, to get it over that last usability hump to make it accessible for the casual user.