(The following is from an article for an upcoming issue of PRISM magazine. Frankly, the lead-time for that bimonthly is so long I've lost track of when this will be published — it could be July/August 2005.)
A summer camp counselor once told me, "If you can't tie a good knot, tie a lot of them."
Congress seems to be following this advice in recent months as they have considered a series of massive, messy omnibus bills.
These proposals, often sprawling for thousands of pages, do not lend themselves to careful, responsible lawmaking.
Take for example the expansive and expensive legislation recently signed into law that began as an effort to add a prescription drug benefit to the federal Medicare insurance program. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne best described this bill when he wrote that Congress "went in to design a prescription drug benefit for seniors and came out with an aardvark."
The centerpiece of the bill — the drug benefit — does not take effect until 2006. And no one is entirely certain what else is in the bill.
News coverage of the measure the day it was passed by the House of Representatives was based on sketchy summaries provided by legislative aides to members of the House leadership. It is possible that some of those aides had the opportunity to skim the entire bill before it was voted on. It is almost certain that their bosses did not.
Giant omnibus bills — like the Medicare law and the current energy bill — do not allow lawmakers to vote responsibly. Members of Congress shouldn't be voting on bills that they haven't had a chance to read.
I'd like to see some member of Congress have the courage to refuse to go along with the charade that these unwieldy measures can be responsibly considered.