February 15, 2008
One Subject, Please
By James Wilson
Today's Downsizer-Dispatch . . . Last week, the House passed the "College Opportunity and Affordibility Act of 2007." It's a very expensive bill; according to Washington Watch, it would cost the average American family $865. A title like that makes one think the bill is about financial aid to college students. But because federal student aid is popular, ideologues and social engineers in Congress and the Dept. of Education loaded the bill with unrelated programs. The act runs to a whopping 792 pages.

The summary of the bill (H.R. 4137) at lists 35 major provisions. About a dozen have nothing to do with student aid. They create grant programs - but not direct aid to students - pertaining to rural areas, minorities, the disabled, elementary and secondary education, campus safety, and the environment. In addition, there are about half a dozen provisions of questionable relevance to the title of the bill.

This is one way government grows. It is fun to point out gross pork-barrel spending, like "bridges to nowhere." But just as expensive are grant programs, each costing hundreds of millions, sprinkled in 800-page bills. These add to the federal government's budget commitments without addressing a way to pay for them.

The core issue - re-authorizing and refining the federal programs pertaining to student aid applications - would have made for a long and expensive bill already. Adding unrelated programs only made it longer and more confusing. It also increased the likelihood that provisions which wouldn't have passed by themselves would sail through - perhaps unnoticed and unread. Indeed, this bill passed 354-58.

Federal student aid is one subject. Improving colleges and universities is another subject. And improving K-12 education is yet another subject. We want Congress to address one subject at a time, and that's why is proposing the One Subject At a Time Act (OSTA).

OSTA requires that each bill that comes to a vote be about one subject, and one subject only, which will be expressed in its title. It will prevent Congress from packaging unpopular legislation into a popular or much-needed bill. It will actually save time by discouraging members of Congress from proposing amendments that don't pertain to the subject of the bill. And it could save taxpayer dollars by removing costly, hidden provisions from bills.

Please tell Congress that you resent unrelated subjects in the same bill. Tell them that the unrelated programs in H.R. 4137 should have been dealt with separately. Tell them to pass the One Subject at a Time Act.

Thank you for being a DC Downsizer

James Wilson
Assistant to the President
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