October 4, 2008
Term Limits? How About Page Limits
If you watched the evolution of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (a.k.a. the bailout bill) then you've seen probably my most hated habit of Capitol Hill. The bill started as a three-page document that Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson sent to Congress as his suggestion for how to begin fixing the mess. Admittedly, it was not a complete bill, in that, it did not cover all of the bases. No need to worry though, The House turned that three-page flyweight document into a solidly middleweight 109 pages. This bill, as you may know, was defeated in the House sending the markets into tailspin. But for those of you left bored by the brevity of the House bill, never fear for the Senate then beefed it up to a hefty 451 pages. Though if you look at the final version, which was also passed by the House, you will notice that the first 110 pages or so look startlingly like the original House bill. However, starting on page 113 is the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 which has nothing to do with the first part. Beginning on page 261 is the Tax Extenders and Alternative Minimum Tax Relief Act of 2008 which again has little, if anything, to do with either of the first two acts in the bill. It occurs to me that only the first act of the bill was actually discussed while the rest was largely just added onto the end with little or no fanfare. Furthermore, the "bailout" portion of the bill was mostly left alone between the bill getting voted down by the House and it's passing a few days later. Why not just have three separate bills and three separate votes?
The worst part is that the best-case scenario for regular folks like myself is that our legislators are too lazy to vote three different times. Every other explanation is less palatable. One option is that either of the two extra acts tacked on the end wouldn't have been passed without being tagged to the must-pass emergency act. Another is that the members (read: Republicans) of the House that voted against the first bill (after saying they would vote for it) only did so to let memebrs of the Senate add the extra acts on a bill that was surely going to be passed when it came back. Or how about this scenario: Congress knew that nobody outside of Washington would support one or both of the extra acts, and so they had to add them to the bill that they knew the media would only refer to as the "bailout" (or the media were told to since we're being conspiratorial). So we're left with either a) lazy legislators or b) malevolent legislators. Great time to be an American, eh?
But back to the title of this little rant. How hard is it to limit the length of these bills? I understand that some things take longer to spell out than others, but can we at least limit each bill to one act? Or better yet, can we avoid making the bills and laws so complicated that nobody can understand them? Maybe that would help with all of these loopholes we're always hearing about being exploited. Or maybe we could have a more informed citizenry. At the very least the law could be clearer and more simple. Those are good things, right?