Your Tax Dollars At Work: 1,000-Page Funding Bill Dropped On Senate Floor One Hour Before Vote

from the instant-sausage dept

The legislative sausage-making process is apparently so streamlined that many sausage-makers are barely involved in the process. It's not that they don't want to be. It's that other sausage-makers want their product to be pushed out the door with a minimum of inspection.

Senator Mike Lee posted a video to his Facebook page that contained a rather graphic depiction of expeditious sausage-making. As his printer whirred away behind him, Lee noted that a $47-billion, 1,033-page transportation funding bill was up for a vote. In less than an hour.

If I don't have time to read legislation before voting on it, my default vote is no. We received the highway bill today at 3:06 p.m., and it is over 1,000 pages long. Our first vote on this legislation is scheduled for 4:00 p.m.
The bill -- which failed to obtain the number of votes needed to open debate -- was a bipartisan effort (led by Barbara Boxer [D] and Mitch McConnell [R]). That's probably the best thing that can be said about it and the legislators behind it. Rather than prove lawmakers can occasionally put aside their differences and actually move forward with the business of legislating, this bill simply signals that both sides of the aisle are willing to resort to bullshit tactics.

The bill arrived at the last minute because the effort itself was last minute. Federal highway aid to states is up against a July 31st expiration deadline. Despite its length, the bill is still far from finished. It takes money from a variety of unrelated programs to fund federal aid for the next three years. The problem is the bill authorizes spending for the next six years. That's the other reason the bill's champions were hoping to shove this through with a minimum of debate: the bill leaves it up to the next Senate class to figure out where it's going to get the other $45-60 billion it will need to keep the federal aid flowing.

Fortunately, most senators were angered by this last-minute page dump.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader, said, "I can't remember a time where I have been asked in all my years in the Congress to vote yes ahead of time on a bill we haven't seen, and there are no amendments" allowed.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the bill "a black hole." He said Democrats have been told changes have been made to auto, trucking and rail safety provisions that were agreed to last week on a party-line vote by the Senate commerce committee, but no details were provided before the vote. Some Democrats have described the provisions as giveaways to industry that would undermine safety.
Schumer is certainly exaggerating. While the very specific facts of this legislative effort may indeed be unique, shoving under-scrutinized bills past legislators is something of a tradition in Washington. PATRIOT Act, anyone? It took until June of 2014 before many lawmakers realized the extent of what they had authorized in 2001. The recording industry pushed through a favorable law change at literally midnight back in 1999. PoliceStateUSA points out that John Boehner dropped a gun control law on the floor when only 10 legislators (out of 435) were on hand to vote. Just recently, the aforementioned Mitch McConnell put a "no questions asked" Section 215 reauthorization bill up for a vote, using his powers as a majority leader to bypass all the hoops the USA Freedom Act was made to jump through.

Anything that might be debated heatedly often arrives at a moment when debate is least likely to occur. Thursday afternoons as legislators are all packing up to return to their homes. Late nights when few lawmakers are left in the building. Or -- like this one -- hundreds of pages of legalese released to voting members shortly before a scheduled vote.

And, in this case, the bill arrives with a bit of extortion attached. Senators who refuse to vote for something they haven't read face the prospect of dealing with angry locals whose federal aid has just expired. Far too often, legislators allow everything to reach the brink of collapse before making a move. There's not a person out there who thinks the best laws are made at the last minute. No one wants poorly-written funding programs that hobble other sectors in a short-sighted attempt to balance the books for the very immediate future. Even if this manages to make it out alive, it still only "fixes" everything for half of the time period authorized by the bill. So, in three years, there will be another last-minute attempt to secure funding, and it will be any other funding legislators feel is at least temporarily expendable that will be forced to patch up funding holes left by the last Senate session.

Sometimes, the sausage doesn't even get made. Instead, a bunch of random ingredients are shoved into a casing and passed off as a finished product. And it's the public that's forced to "eat" this sausage -- both in terms of the asking price, as well as any nasty side effects consumption of the poorly-made sausage may cause.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:11am

    This is a classic tactic. Introduce a bill you don't really want to pass, in a way that guarantees it won't pass. Give it a snazzy title.
    Now you can claim that you tried to support some program. And you can yell about how your opponent voted against something like children, or veterans, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:19am

    We have to pass the bill so we can find out what's in it. Lovely.

    We see a lot of talk around here about ideas that have strong bipartisan support among the people, but for some reason not among the politicians. Perhaps I could add another such idea:

    No bill in Congress, either in committee or before the full body of either house of Congress, may be voted upon before it has been read out loud, in its entirety, in front of a quorum of the body which is to hold the vote in question. When a bill is passed after such a vote, it is considered to have passed exactly as it was read; any amendments or changes introduced after the reading will require the bill to be read again, in its entirety, or they cannot be valid.


    This would make it more difficult to sneak dirty tricks into legislature, and have the side effect of incentivizing laws to be shorter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:34am

      Re:

      Reminds me of an old reading of the laws tradition. Every certain period of years all of the laws were read aloud. If it closed without anyone pointing out that a law was missed it would be automatically repealed. If somebody reminded them of it they would have to read it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Quiet Lurcker, 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:48am

      Re:

      May I add a few addenda:

      1: The bill must state explicitly how each and every one of its provisions is authorized by the plain meaning of Article 1, Section 8 of the constitution, as limited by the plain meaning of all if its amendments;
      2: the bill must concern one and only one subject;
      3: the bill must be written in plain, unambiguous language that any layman can understand;
      4: the bill must not conflict with any other law currently on the books, and if it does so, the bill must propose a means to resolve any conflict.

      I firmly suspect, if these provisions were enacted into an amendment to the Constitution, a lot of the shenanigans that go on in Washington would evaporate, rather quickly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:35pm

      Re:

      We have to pass the bill so we can find out what's in it. Lovely.

      Basically what they tried to do with SOPA.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:34am

    To be honest, the sausage making process is less disgusting than politics nowadays.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:40am

    [quote]Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader, said, "I can't remember a time where I have been asked in all my years in the Congress to vote yes ahead of time on a bill we haven't seen.[/quote]

    SERIOUSLY??! Did Senator Schumer just say that with a straight face? Either he's getting too old or he doesn't want to remember. Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party rushed that Health Care Reform Bill through Congress and she was the one who said "we won't know what's in the health care reform bill until after we pass it".

    Churck Schumer is a major fucking idiot.

    Here's is Nancy Pelosi on that fabled remark:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoE1R-xH5To

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Teamchaos (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 11:44am

    The bill wouldn't even been needed if the $$ from the gas tax were used solely to maintain roads. In a typical year only 65% of gas tax revenue goes to maintain roads and highways. The rest? Whatever pork and boondoggles congress can think up. I'm surprised it was only a thousand pages.

    Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303815404577333631864470566

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 23 Jul 2015 @ 12:00pm

    Radical or Sensible?

    Your Tax Dollars At Work: 1,000-Page Funding Bill Dropped On Senate Floor One Hour Before Vote

    By operating in such a manner is the US Senate acting in a radical or sensible manner?

    Maybe Wesley Clark can invite the radical members (all 535 tax-feeders) of congress to his internment camp for a little constitutional re-education.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 12:03pm

    While the very specific facts of this legislative effort may indeed be unique, shoving under-scrutinized bills past legislators is something of a tradition in Washington. PATRIOT Act, anyone? It took until June of 2014 before many lawmakers realized the extent of what they had authorized in 2001. The recording industry pushed through a favorable law change at literally midnight back in 1999. PoliceStateUSA points out that John Boehner dropped a gun control law on the floor when only 10 legislators (out of 435) were on hand to vote. Just recently, the aforementioned Mitch McConnell put a "no questions asked" Section 215 reauthorization bill up for a vote , using his powers as a majority leader to bypass all the hoops the USA Freedom Act was made to jump through.
    Why are US politicians wanting a fast track law, again?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jul 2015 @ 12:20pm

      Re:

      IT's not US poltiicians - it's the White House.

      Just another angle of attack on democracy from people who think democracy is just another buzzword to be perverted.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 1:04pm

    It's not that they don't want to be.

    Let's see if they vote against it. Otherwise they're happy enough where they are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 23 Jul 2015 @ 3:09pm

    Anything that has the name Mitch McConnell attached to it, in my view, is immediately suspect and well deserves a great big "NO!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 23 Jul 2015 @ 3:41pm

    This is Standard Operating Procedure for the Senate?

    That alone is cause enough for our state to be the messed-up quagmire that it has become.

    The old James Madison gem seems appropriate:

    It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.

    -- The Federalist #62, Wednesday, February 27, 1788

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Griffdog (profile), 24 Jul 2015 @ 8:59am

    ... and they say Justice is blind!

    "I can't remember a time where I have been asked in all my years in the Congress to vote yes ahead of time on a bill we haven't seen, and there are no amendments" allowed."

    He can't remember a few weeks ago when they gave fast-track authorization to TPP, a huge trade policy that few congress critters have read and virtually none of their staffers were allowed to read?!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 25 Jul 2015 @ 1:32am

    Closed legislative process

    Tyrannical rule is so much easier to achieve when the legislative process is closed to actual debate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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