Can a "single subject law" cure what ails Congress?

Eliminate the “omnibus” bills, packed with everything like the $3.5 trillion Pelosi monstrosity.

One reason that Congress is hung up on President Joe Bidden’s $3.5 trillion”Build Back Better” and $1.5 trillion “infrastructure” bills is because who the hell knows all of what’s in them?

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said a few years ago when massive ObamaCare legislation was up for consideration, “We have to pass it to find out what’s in it.”

This lunacy now is back as Pelosi is trying desperately to pas opaque legislation that she’s crammed everything (including the kitchen sink?) in it. Private negotiations are being conducted in the backroom, trade-offs are being quietly made, items are snuck in at the last minute and promised programs are cast by the wayside.

What emerges are literally thousands of pages that can’t be read and by anyone. Is there one person in the cosmos who knows everything that’s lurking within? Are lawmakers expected to do their job in the dark? Is the public supposed to be satisfied with a law massaged by lobbyists and special interests behind close doors?

Of course not, and that’s the purpose of jamming so much into a single (omnibus) bill and passing it lickety-split. Like Pelosi wants.

How much better would it be if the bill was broken down into manageable segments that are limited to a single subject? Want to require two months of parental leave? Then let’s debate that–on its merits. How about free college? Then let everyone have his say, let the press dive into the content, disclosure the special interests behind it, fully disclosure the costs and subject it to an up-or-down vote. On its merits.

That’s instead of a take-it-or-leave it all bill that requires political loyalty above all else and divides lawmaking into either-or-everything opposing camps.

This isn’t some wacko idea. Dozens of state constitutions including Illinois’ have single-subject provisions.

A legislative guide explains the benefits the single-subject provision of the Illinois Constitution:

The single-subject requirement is intended partly to prevent “log-rolling” (putting diverse provisions in a bill to appeal to various groups of legislators, most of whom would not vote for individual parts if each part were put to a separate vote). It is also intended to prevent surprise of legislators and the public by inclusion in a bill of provisions they did not suspect it contained. Such provisions in state constitutions result from a 1795 Georgia law that was slipped past legislators with a provision selling land to speculators for nearly nothing. Illinois courts have said that the single-subject requirement does not limit how comprehensive a bill can be, if the matters with which it deals have a natural or logical connection. And an act amending a comprehensive law may contain any provision that might have been included in the law being amended without violating this section.

But a law is invalid if it includes “incongruous and unrelated matters” or “discordant provisions that by no fair intendment can be considered as having any legitimate relation to each other.”

Well said. (If you want to delve deeply into the topic, you might be interested in reading a scholarly analysis, “No Law Shall Embrace More Than One Subject.” While it was written in 1958, I think it remains relevant.)

How well single-subject laws are followed or enforced is, of course, another matter. What exactly constitutes a “subject” can be broadly interpreted, as numerous courts have. It might require a constitutional amendment. If not, it still would have to get the approval of lawmakers who are just fine with keeping the sneaky omnibus option.

Except for Rep. Russell Fulcher, an Idaho Republican. He has introduced H.R.872, the One Subject at a Time Act. It provides that, “Each bill or joint resolution shall embrace no more than one subject.” And in a dart aimed directly at the “Reconciliation” madness for lumping everything possible into an appropriations bill, Fulcher’s bill states:

(c) Appropriation Bills.—An appropriations bill shall not contain any general legislation or change of existing law provision, the subject of which is not germane to the subject matter of each such appropriations bill provided however, that this section shall not be construed to prohibit any provision imposing limitations upon the expenditure of funds so appropriated.

I don’t hold out much hope for passage. After Fulcher introduced the bill last March, it was assigned to the House Judicial Committee, which passed it on to the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, where it will wither and die.

But there’s this: While everyone in Congress might understand the problem, there at least someone out there trying to do something about it.

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