Congress, like the weather, is one of those things we all complain about, but really don’t do…well, you know. My complaints about Congress are usually systemic. Over the course of two and a quarter centuries, the folks up on Capitol Hill have managed to create a culture of partisanship, favor-brokering, power-mongering, disingenuousness, and corruption that would make the corrupt and disingenuous powerfully partisan favoritists of the past blush.
The burr under my saddle today is that nefarious practice of placing unpopular legislation that’s not likely to be approved on its own into a large legislative package (typically a spending bill) so that it will be passed. This happens time-and-time again, and so it’s really unimportant what the particulars are in any case.
In a larger sense, this is a fundamental procedural problem with how Congress legislates–the ability to amend bills onto other bills which have no direct relationship with each other. I mean, if a Representative can manage to attach a military pension amendment to a defense spending bill…while I’d like it to be in a different spending package, at least it’s directly related. If a Senator attaches a school voucher program to a similar defense spending bill…well, that’s a whole different kettle of wax. The one has no direct correlation to the other, and they should not be allowed to mix.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a staunch opponent to pork-barrel legislation. I think that having elected representatives as advocates for a district or a state sort of necessitates a necessary level of pork–that is one indication of an official doing their job for their constituency. No, I’m opposed to this fraudulent hiding of hot-button or otherwise unpopular legislation into something else that is necessary.
How to fix this? Every bill and amendment must be tagged with a single description that indexes it to a particular area of legislation: defense, education, land-use, research, etc. Next, implement rules so that only matching indexes may be tied to each other in a larger bill. Lastly, allow every member to be able to bring to the floor a certain number of bills per session outside of the filter of the leadership (this is another Argh that will be addressed in another article). On the whole, this would streamline the bills and improve, just a little, the level of governance that citizens expect but don’t often receive.