Congressional chaos


MAYBE some members of Congress actually took the time during their monthlong vacation to read the budget plan they voted on last month.

After all, most of them didn't get a chance to look at the 3,000-page plan before they approved it.

The day before the vote, Rep. Ron Klink, Democrat of Pennsylvania, asked aides to get a copy of the bill. They called the Ways and Means Committee, only to be told it would not be widely available until the next morning. It was published on schedule; the vote took place that evening.

To pass judgment on $496 billion in taxes and spending cuts in those 12 hours, they would have had to review more than $688 million of spending proposals every minute.

"Not one member knows what he's voting on today!" said Rep. Gerald B. Solomon, R-N.Y., during the House debate.

So what else is new? In theory, Congress should have adequate time to read important legislation; the House requires that all legislation be available for three days before a vote.

But so far this year the House has waived its rules on more than three-quarters of its legislation. Nearly a fifth of the waivers eliminated the three-day rule.

There's no reason for the members to do this -- other than to grease the skids for pork-barrel spending or cut short debate on controversial proposals.

Take the $360 million Congress appropriated last year for the advanced solid rocket motor.

Although the Bush administration and many environmental and scientific groups opposed the project, the fact that it was built in the district of the Appropriations Committee chairman, Jamie Whitten of Mississippi, proved decisive.

Mr. Whitten slipped the money into the conference committee report just before the House waived its waiting period.

The same bill included millions of dollars in subsidies for sugarcane mills in Hawaii and a "video conferencing and training facility" in South Carolina.

In truth, even a three-day waiting period is too short. Congress should extend it to five days and require a two-thirds vote to waive it. Then congressional staff members, the press and interest groups would have time to inform voters about the costs and benefits of proposed legislation.

Voters could then relay their concerns to their representatives.

If enough of their constituents made it clear that they understood how a vote to waive a waiting period equals a vote to ram through legislation -- and that ignoring the rules equals ignoring the will of the voters -- Congress would snap to attention.

Dan Greenberg is an analyst with the Heritage Foundation.

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