Congressional & Presidential Irresponsibility

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You’ve
probably heard that Congress
passed a $388 billion spending bill
that covered all the appropriations
that our representatives couldn’t get around to handling before
the end of this year’s session.

The
bill was 3,500 pages long, and you can lay odds that not one Senator
or Congressman read the entire bill – and probably not even
a single page of it. Hence, everyone was shocked when it was revealed
that the bill contained a provision to allow the chairmen of the
House and Senate appropriations committees or their agents "access
to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return
information contained therein." In other words, these worthy
gentlemen could snoop into your tax return or the return of any
other American taxpayer.

I
heard one Congressman say that the provision was inserted into the
bill by mistake. How does that happen? Did some Congressional staffer
intend to put the provision in his doctoral thesis and wrote it
into the spending bill by mistake? Or does a provision like that
have legs, and can wander into a bill if someone mistakenly leaves
the door open?

The
entire fiasco points up how ridiculous the legislative process has
become. Congressmen and Senators no longer read the bills they vote
on. Most likely, their staffers don’t read them either. Some of
the bills are put together and voted on in the middle of the night
– with no printed copies available for anyone to read.

Bills
Are Excuses for Pork

A
few months later, someone actually reads the bill and discovers
that a bill that was passed to provide relief for flood victims
in North Dakota and Minnesota contains not a single dollar for that
purpose – but does contain $500,000 for a parking garage and
$500,000 to restore the Paramount Theater, both in Ashland, Kentucky
– plus $16 million for a counter-terrorist Automated Targeting
System – and foreign aid for Ukraine – as well as Loans
and grants for the College Station area of Pulaski County, Arkansas
– not to mention money for the collection and dissemination
of statistics on cheese manufacturing in the United States –
and let’s not forget $133,600 "for payment to Marissa, Sonya,
and Frank (III) Tejeda, children of Frank Tejeda, late a Representative
from the State of Texas."

(Leon
Felkins found such provisions in a 1997 bill, H.R. 1469 "The
Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill" – which was
passed to help victims of the flooding of the Red River, but which
contained no aid to such victims. Unfortunately, he’s removed from
his website his list of all the pork in the bill.)

Before
we pass a so-called "Defense of Marriage" constitutional
amendment, we need an amendment that requires every Congressman
and Senator to certify in writing that he has read a bill in its
entirety before he can vote on it. The same must be required for
the President before he can sign a bill into law.

If
Only We Had a President Who Cared

In
my 1995 campaign book, Why
Government Doesn’t Work
, I said:

One sign
of a government run amok is that many Congressional bills are
hundreds and hundreds of pages long – and they include dozens
and dozens of provisions that are irrelevant to the bills’ topics.

Congressmen
rarely read the bills they vote for, and Presidents almost never
read them before signing them. Everyone relies on aides and "experts"
to assess the bills – and even the latter can’t read a bill
that is rushed through to a vote or altered at the last minute.

In too many
cases, Congressmen and Presidents don’t even care what’s in a
bill. They approve it not because of its content, but because
of its image – "tough on crime," racially correct,
welfare reform, "budget-cutting," environmentally pure,
or whatever. This is how quotas, asset-forfeiture, draconian regulations,
and so many other pernicious practices sneak into the law –
as "minor" matters hidden in a skyscraper of words.
But after the bill’s passage, the regulators read all these bills
thoroughly and enforce every provision. And then some Congressmen
are shocked to learn that their constituents are being harassed.

I will not
sign any bill I haven’t read. I will consult with advisors, but
I will always make the final decision myself, based on what a
bill actually says. If a bill is too long for me to read in the
ten days the Constitution gives the President to make a decision,
I will veto it automatically.

If a bill
is ambiguous or too complicated to understand, I will veto it
automatically – even if I think it might be aimed in the
right direction.

If these
standards seem too rigid for this modern age, it is not because
the standards are wrong, but because government has become too
big and complicated. Restore government to a manageable size and
bills will be short, life will be less complicated, and Congress
can do all its work in a few weeks each year.

Frank
Chodorov once said that he wanted a government small enough to fit
into his kitchen. With such a small government, we would have small
spending bills with no surprise provisions.

December
4, 2004

Harry Browne [send
him mail
], the author of Why
Government Doesn’t Work

and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate
in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

Harry
Browne Archives

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