The older I get, I am increasingly irritated by the ways in which our government has strayed from its founding norms. I’m not talking about societal or technological improvements or other facets of American life that had to be changed. I’m talking about the architectonic ideas that guide good governance.
Following the Omnibus debacle, I was livid that Congress would pass such a monstrosity of a bill. There were policies in it that I disagreed with, but most importantly, its structure prevented anyone from knowing what they were actually voting for.
Rand Paul famously tweeted out key elements of the bill that he found objectionable (and I don’t believe he made it all the way through). These types of bills cover such disparate areas of policy that voting for or against them can be construed in any number of ways.
President Trump vowed that he would never sign a bill like it again.
James Madison explicitly warned against large bills.
In Federalist 62, he says,
“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if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”
But is the Omnibus bill the only type of bill that violates this principle? By no means!
Congress is currently working on several immigration proposals. Immigration elicits very strong and varied opinions, yet it is one issue that many of our elected officials refuse to take a definitive stance on. They are worried about alienating hard liners, compassionate moderates, immigration libertarians, and open border advocates. They attempt to shift the blame by proposing convoluted bills, which no sane person would vote for if they had the option of voting for each item of the bill.
We are told that immigration reform has to be a compromise. Why? Compromise achieves nothing because it forces both sides to concede points that harm their own goals. It’s a terrible electoral strategy and invites incessant media spin.
Consider the following:
Congressman A is an immigration hawk.
Congressman B is an open borders advocate.
There is a proposed a bill that grants a long and limited pathway to citizenship to DACA recipients, merit based visas, full funding for the wall, revises deportation proceedings, and has very little chance of garnering liberal support.
Then let’s say that there is another proposal that grants sweeping protections to DACA recipients and is open to more liberal policy goals, but still includes elements of reform that are conservative in nature.
How do the congressmen vote? Each compromise bill is set to be watered down. Each congressman cannot, in good faith, vote for either bill, as a compromise would betray the voters.
Did the hawk vote for a wall that came with amnesty?
Did the liberal vote for the amnesty that came with a wall?
Are they complicit in supporting a policy that is antithetical to their principles?
The first proposal is being considered by congress now. It’s the result of a failed attempt by moderate republicans to force a vote on protections for DACA. According to the Associated Press and the Washington Post, several bills have been proposed to address a host of immigration issues, with support being hard to gauge. Some conservatives are behind it. The President might support it. Some moderates are ok with it. And some conservatives are opposed.
Why do they bother trying to force members of congress to accept unpalatable measures? The Washington Post notes that Democrats will not vote for some of the proposed compromises. And we know that the minute the bill gets too liberal, Republicans won’t support it.
The only thing left is a milquetoast bill that achieves nothing of substance and manages to offend voters who elected individuals with specific views on immigration.
It’s not right to make Luis Gutierrez support a wall in order to get amnesty.
It’s not right to make Ted Cruz support amnesty in order to get a wall.
Wouldn’t voters prefer to know what their representatives think about specific policies?
Wall? Yes or No?
DACA? Yes or No?
Amnesty? Yes or No?
More visas? Yes or No?
Due Process for detained migrants? Yes or No?
Merit based visas? Yes or No?
More refugees? Yes or No?
This clarity is better for voters in both parties.
There should be individual bills on individual points of policy. This prevents the inclusion of poison pills, pork, and other elements of law that have no bearing on the policy being addressed.
Aside from the electoral ramifications of supporting convoluted bills or supporting single bills that clarify a politician’s stance on the importance of a certain policy, the length of bills also has ramifications for term length.
Madison implies that senators have a longer term length so as to prepare them for understanding the legislative process. It is to make them familiar with law. While the House remains close to the people through frequent elections, the Senate is more deliberative and less prone to the passions of political whims. From this, we can infer that if six years were sufficient for short bills, what amount of time should Senators serve when bills are much larger? Could this possibly explain why so many Senators serve for decades?
Is anyone actually for letting elected politicians stay in power for eons?
If any bill is to respect the framers’ intentions, it would remain limited in scope. This might even solve Congress' popularity problem.