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Process Foul

Playing the Shell Game: Democratic Rush to Judgment Leads to Sloppy Governance

Speaker Nancy Pelosi - “[W]e promised the American people that we would have the most honest and open government and we will.” (Press stakeout, December 6, 2006).

Last week, the Speaker notified the House that she was using her emergency authority to call Members back to vote on an education “jobs” bill that the Washington Post called “an election-year favor for teachers unions” rather than a good use of taxpayer dollars. So what’s this important bill called? As it turns out, it’s called the “_______ Act of _______.”

That’s right. The Senate was in such a rush to push through another $26 billion bill in more spending, they forgot to actually fill in the blanks and name the bill. And the kicker is that the House is poised to send it to the President that way, blanks and all.

That’s because the Senate used a “shell” — a bill that the House passed earlier but on which the Senate took no action — and substituted the text of the education bill for the original text passed by the House. Now this doesn’t mean that the bill has no name at all; in fact, it’s “official title” is still in place: “An act to modernize the air traffic control system, improve the safety, reliability, and availability of transportation by air in the United States, provide for modernization of the air traffic control system, reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, and for other purposes.” The problem is that the actual provisions of the bill have nothing at all to do with the air traffic control system.

If this were a normal situation, there would be ways to correct the problem. The House could amend the bill again, fixing the short title. Alternatively, the House could send the Senate a separate resolution “correcting” the enrollment of the bill before it’s sent to the President. The only problem with both of those strategies is that the Senate has left town for the remainder of August, and any change means the bill could not go to the President before they returned, undermining the Speaker’s reason for calling Members back to Washington from their districts.

Rules Committee Ranking Republican David Dreier tried to put this situation into perspective: “Once again, the Democratic Majority’s rush to enact unpopular legislation with questionable objectives will result in sloppy lawmaking. Putting the price tag for this unneeded bill aside, this just shows that the Majority is more concerned with good politics than good legislating. If they can’t get the name of the bill right, what other problems might be lurking under the hood? If we’re ever going to get our nation’s fiscal house in order, it won’t be with a shell game like this.”

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