Especially with the Presidential Campaign ratcheting up, we hear constant calls for cutting budgets, staying within our budgets, and living within the discipline of a budget. Our government runs a huge budget deficit. With unemployment high and hardly anyone’s pay keeping up with inflation, we are trying to live within our budgets.
I think that having a well drawn budget and the discipline to live within it makes for a certain stability. I think living within the constraints of a budget is a worthy goal. I propose that Congress do just that, set a well drawn budget and then have the discipline to stay within it. But, I’m not talking money. I want to see Congress budget the number of Laws it makes.
Over the past ten years, there have been introduced in Congress, from (a low in 2004 of) 3,656 Bills to (a high in 2009 of) 9,071 Bills in a single year. Of those, a low of 80 and a high of 300 were enacted into law. During this period Congress was in session, on average, fewer than 130 days. That means between 1 and 2.5 bills were passed each day when Congress was in session from a daily pool of between 28 and 70 bills that were introduced each day. If each bill consisted of only 10 pages of 300 words each, a Senator or Member of Congress would need to read, understand, and be in a position to pass judgment on 84,000 to 210,000 words each day in session. Novels tend to run 75,000 to 150,000 words so we are essentially asking Members to read, understand, and vote on the equivalent of a novel a day, or more. Last I checked, each member has other tasks assigned, not to mention constant campaigning to retain his or her position of power leaving less than enough time to understand, let alone read his or her daily novel.
Here are three samples of those 1 to 2.5 bills passed each day of the session:
1. H.R.-4 - “Comprehensive 1099 Taxpayer Protection and Repayment of Exchange Subsidy Overpayments Act of 2011″ - This Bill rolls back some of the requirements for reporting information previously required when filling out 1099s. Also hidden in the bill is an increase in the tax credit for health care costs for persons who are at lower than 400% of the poverty line. – My guess: The Republicans only achieved the cutback in reporting requirements by caving to the Democrats and expanding eligibility for health care tax credits.
2. S. 188 and similar - “To designate the United States courthouse under construction at 98 West First Street, Yuma, Arizona, as the “John M. Roll United States Courthouse”. Approximately 10-20% of bills passed are to name a Federal Facility for a local hero or to appoint someone to The Board of the Smithsonian Institution or make a similar appointment.
3. H.J.Res 44 - “Further Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011″ About 50% of all laws passed appear to be, like this, continuing appropriations because this program or that has run out of money (gone over the budget) or are extensions to programs meant to sunset after a certain period of time. My search was not extensive, but, I saw not a single law passed that lowered the budget of a Federal Program nor shortened the length of a program. In fact, H.R.4 listed above is a rare example of dialing back some requirements of a Federal Program.
My point is that with so many Bills in the hopper only the easy ones can get passed. Members of Congress don’t often get more than a briefing from staff about what is in a bill before they vote. When Nancy Pelosi famously said that we “would have to pass the bill before we know what’s in it,” she was revealing that only after the passage of a bill does it often get the scrutiny it deserves. This was normal for Ms. Pelosi, voting for something she had not read, but it shocked many Americans who had believed that legislation was well vetted and understood before a vote. There are very few bills that concern important, priority items that pass through Congress, and, those that do generally have so many amendments, additions, so much pork and other tools included (to get them to pass) that it is often uncertain if the original purpose for the law is ever realized.
Let’s imagine that you went to Congress and that your number one priority was to pass a Highway Construction Standards Bill to establish minimum standards for construction of roads and bridges used in interstate commerce (those projects that receive Federal Funds). It would not be surprising in the least if the bill passed only after about 10 attempts and rewrites. It would likely end up with a provision for funding a new Community Theater in the hometown of an influential Senator and another provision exempting the public education system of the State of Oregon from the “No Child Left Behind” requirements. (If these two examples sound ridiculous, you have not read many pieces of recent Federal Legislation and most assuredly have not read more than a couple of the near 1000 pages of the “Obamacare” bill).
Congress has no budget on laws passed. It can create 1000 new laws each week if it wants. What do you think that would cost us in both dollars and freedom?
Here is a brief draft of the “budget” law I believe Congress should pass:
No Senator or Member of Congress shall introduce more than 5 bills in any session.
The Congress shall be limited to passing only 150 bills or acts in any given session. Any act or bill passed beyond this number will become law only if it includes language which rescinds all of the laws or regulations created by three other acts previously passed by Congress.
Any Act passed by the Congress shall address one and only one topic including directly related issues, agencies, programs, etc.
What do you think? Should we budget the number of laws passed by Congress?