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.