August 4, 2006
House Passes "Don't Read the Bills" Resolutions
By James Wilson
Welcome to this edition of "Last Week in Congress." To see the specific bills and resolutions mentioned below, or to see how specific members of Congress voted, click here for the House and here for the Senate. The Congressional soap opera, “As the Stomach Turns” gave us a new twist late last week. Instead of passing the Read the Bills Act, Congress passed House Resolutions 958 and 966 that rushed two important pieces of legislation to the floor before the members had a chance to read them. Normally, the Rules Committee writes a resolution to provide the terms of the debate of a specific bill. When that resolution passes the House, the House must wait at least 24 hours before the debate actually begins. This, at least, gives members of Congress and their staffs a chance to at least review the bills. But Resolution 958 waived the 24-hour waiting period for both the Pension Protection Act (H.R. 4) and the Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act (H.R. 5970). This tactic is known in the House as "Martial Law," because, as Common Dreams puts it,
it suspends the normal procedures and safeguards and allows the House Leadership to operate in a more authoritarian fashion. It enables the leadership to seek to ram a bill or conference report through before the members have the opportunity to fully understand what they are voting on.
And this was used because the House wanted to adjourn and
[there are] several major pieces of legislation that are not yet available to House members in final form because behind-closed-door negotiations on the proposals are still going on. [“Martial Law” allows] these bills to be brought to the floor very shortly after negotiations are completed, with the result that Members of the House are likely to have virtually no time to examine and consider the details of the legislation before they will be required to vote on it.
Once Resolution 958 was passed, Resolution 966 actually set the rules of the debate for the two bills. For each bill, debate was limited to one single hour. Congress may as well have passed a "Don’t Read the Bills" Act; Resolutions 958 and 966 amount to the same thing. Okay, so what about the bills themselves? H.R. 4, the Pension Protection Act is 1009 pages. As of this writing, the Library of Congress’s Thomas site doesn’t even have a summary of the bill; it would probably take days to figure out how to summarize it. We are not comforted that the bill is “to provide economic security for all Americans, and for other purposes.” Previous history tells us that bills with nice-sounding intentions are still, generally-spaking, disasters. H.R. 5970, however, at least "sounds" like a good bill to D.C. Downsizers. It’s the “Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act of 2006.” It’s 183 pages, and includes so many provisions that may be good, but could have been voted on as separate bills. supports cutting taxes, such as this Death Tax, wherever and whenever. But what Congress neglects is the spending side. Yes, those death taxes are bad. But so are budget deficits, which are tax hikes on our children and grandchildren. Monetary inflation is also awful, which is caused by the Federal Reserve printing more money for the government to spend. If Congress focused instead on downsizing the government and cutting spending, then cuts in taxes, deficits, and inflation all will follow. There was other House news. On Monday, the House passed the 26-page S. 1496, “A bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a pilot program under which up to 15 States may issue electronic Federal migratory bird hunting stamps.” The 180-page S. 203, the “National Heritage Areas Act of 2005 was even more disconcerting. It is worth noting that our future campaign to promote a “single subject act” would've stood in the way of this bill, because there are really two unrelated issues included in this proposal. Title I is on “Soda Ash Royalty Reduction” and would reduce the federal government’s royalty for sodium compounds and related products mined from federal lands to 2%. This is grouped together with the creation of ten new “National Heritage Areas.” And the House wasn’t even through. On Monday they also created the six-page H. 5534, “to provide grants from moneys collected from violations of the corporate average fuel economy program to be used to expand infrastructure necessary to increase the availability of alternative fuels.” On Tuesday, the House passed the 22-page 21st Century Emergency Communications Act, “To amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to enhance emergency communications at the Department of Homeland Security, and for other purposes.” Also, the 12-page H.R. 4804, “FHA Manufactured Housing Loan Modernization Act.” And the 32 page H.R. 5121, “To modernize and update the National Housing Act and enable the Federal Housing Administration to use risk-based pricing to more effectively reach underserved borrowers, and for other purposes.” Some good news. The House also overwhelmingly passed the 6 page H.R. 5013, the “Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006.” This would “amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to prohibit the confiscation of firearms during certain national emergencies.” The Senate passed by a similar margin a couple of weeks before as an amendment to a departmental spending bill. So we can be confident that, should disaster strike an area, the federal government will probably make a bad situation worse, but at least it won’t try to take away our guns. On Wednesday came the 35-page HR 5337, the “National Security Foreign Investment Reform and Strengthened Transparency Act,” the purpose of which is “to ensure national security while promoting foreign investment and the creation and maintenance of jobs, to reform the process by which such investments are examined for any effect they may have on national security, to establish the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and for other purposes.” Then came the 9-page HR 5319, the “Deleting Online Predators Act.” This would “amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries [a federal program for discounted Internet service - jlw] to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms.” What’s this about? Apparently, 20% of minors who use on-line social networking sites receive some sort of (online, not person to person) sexual advance. Congress’s overreaction is to prevent public school and library computers from allowing children access to such networking sites. Congress’s reach doesn’t extend to home computers. So the effect of this is to prevent poor children who have no home computers from being able to network on the Internet. Wednesday also saw passage of the 28-page HR 5682, the United States and India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act. And on Thursday the House passed the 100-page HR 4157, the “Better Health Information System Act” that would “amend the Social Security Act to encourage the dissemination, security, confidentiality, and usefulness of health information technology.” The Senate was (thankfully) much, much quieter, passing the 6-page S. 403, ““Child Custody Protection Act,” “to prohibit taking minors across State lines in circumvention of laws requiring the involvement of parents in abortion decisions.” So, if my count is correct, the Senate passed one bill of six pages, and the House passed 13 bills totaling 1648 pages. Is it ever time for a summer recess!
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