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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Congress -- Action In Inaction

Posted Thursday, August 21, 2008, at 9:59 AM

Right now Congress, as well as the Indiana Legislature, is in summer recess. There has been some talk recently that Congress should/shouldn't get back to pass/not pass some particular legislation. What could be accomplished for good/evil seems to depend on which political party is proposing what. It's not clear, though, whether reassembling in Washington would be all that productive. A nonpartisan organization called Taxpayers for Common Sense reports the 110th Congress has passed "only" 260 laws in the session just ended. Of these new laws, seventy-four consisted of renaming post offices. Apparently 260 (really 186) are the fewest laws imposed on an unsuspecting public within the last decade. The question asked being "why is Congress doing so little?" This question seems to presume that not passing laws is a bad thing.

Why would we want them to make more? As 1930's era humorist Will Rogers once said, "Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for." Personally I think old Will would be proud of any Congress which could restrain themselves from passing a potpourri of new legislation. And, no, I am not near old enough to remember Will Rogers

The volume of laws on the books now is simply beyond comprehension. Whole bureaucracies are devoted to just cataloging them. No one could possibly be aware of all of the laws that affect our daily lives. Even lawyers have to specialize is some particular area of law, hoping they have compiled everything available on the subject. Accountants, too, exist solely because Congress keeps changing the rules of engagement. Who knows, if the tax forms stopped changing for a few years somebody might figure them out.

To keep themselves busy our lawmakers in Washington do pass hundreds of Resolutions. These are usually passed unanimously, having been read only by the sponsor's chief of staff. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is quoted as saying: "It's probably not the best use of our time, but we have to do something. These resolutions make it look like we're working."

At least passing Resolutions keeps them out of too much mischief. Resolutions are non-binding on everyone to whom they do not apply; whereas actual laws bind every one of us -- whether we know about them or not.

Generally speaking Resolutions don't cost us all that much, either. A good thing about not passing too many laws is that you can't sneak an "Earmark" into non-existent Bills. Earmarks, as you will recall, are expenditures of millions upon millions of our tax dollars without review or public exposure. The most infamous in recent years being the "bridge to nowhere" proposed by an Alaskan Representative (who reportedly now has Law problems of his own).

We once had a friend named Russell Brockfeld who at the time was Minority Leader in the Missouri House of Representatives. He voiced an idea that always seemed like one of the best policies any legislature could adopt. Russ's idea was that no law should be passed unless two were repealed. This, his theory went, would someday get us back to the original Ten.

David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at kayanddavid@joink.com.

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