“Just one more thing…” was Peter Falk’s tag line on Columbo. Not a perfect tie-in to this post, but it works. Kinda. Really, that’s all we should want in a bill, one thing, one topic, one subject.
Have you ever thought about what a single simple change to how we make and/or enforce laws might make the biggest impact? In other words, think of it as a question: If you could make one small change to how we legislate, what would that change be?
Personally, I’d ban the omnibus bill. I’d make it so that ALL bills must address a single subject. It was really tough to choose between Baseline Budgeting, which is insidious in its own way, and allowing non-elected people to make rules and laws, and this, but this won out. (Methinks a post about baseline budgeting is on the way, though.) Omnibus bills aren’t streamlining anything, they hide and confuse, intentionally. How does the average citizen keep up?
For those who aren’t sure, an omnibus bill is…
Omnibus Bill is draft legislation before a legislature which contains more than one substantive matter, or several minor matters combined together as one bill. Such bill is introduced supposedly for the sake of convenience. A government can slip in a substantial change in legislation and present it as an omnibus bill. An “all or nothing” tactic is involved in presenting an omnibus bill in the legislature.
And it’s precisely the “all or nothing” aspect that makes an omnibus bill so insidious. The way I see it, the reasons for banning omnibus bills are numerous…
- First off, budget resolutions would have to be exempt. Budget resolutions actually do need to be comprehensive and the process streamlined. I hate the idea of exemptions in pretty much an anathema to me, but sometimes you have to suck it up and concede. (A budget resolution is not necessarily the same thing as a spending or appropriations bill. Here’s a good explanation of the difference.)
- Omnibus bills hide questionable items. Senator Bedfellow slips in a fire station for Montana while Senator Graft gets his research of the effects of long toe nails on Australian Aborigines (it did happen once), and so on… but the bill is named The Thwart Child Driving Under the Age of 13 Omnibus Bill. It is my contention that if many of these items were worthy, they’d stand on their own. Basically, omnibus bills lie to the people.
- Omnibus bills hide a legislators true track record regarding their votes, and thus where they actually stand on the issues. For example, Representative Dishonest might be a staunch guns rights advocate, but is also be strong on anti-immigration. If a bill has a portion to restrict guns, and also to stop immigration. What is Rep Dishonest to do? They have to pick one, I guess. Let’s say Rep Dishonest chooses to vote yes for the anti-immigration part. Then comes re-election time his opponent makes a big deal about that time Rep Dishonest voted for gun restrictions. Problem is, that’s deceiving. Rep Dishonest, strictly speaking, didn’t vote for gun restrictions, it was just caught up in a one-size-fits-all bill. This really isn’t fair to the citizens, either. Make legislators take a stand!
- Sometimes the legislation and spending process needs a speed bump, not stop, just slow down. Eliminating omnibus bills would be that speed bump. Again, if it’s truly worthy, it will stand on it’s own. Legislators would probably scream they don’t have time to address everything individually. Good. That’s the point. Maybe you should be picking and choosing what’s really important rather than trying to placate everybody. Have a backbone, tell some people ‘no’. I believe this is a piece of the puzzle when it comes to increasing deficits. It’s too easy to spend gobs of money without much effort.
- Omnibus bills aren’t fair to the citizens. They’re difficult to track. Items that are (purposely?) hidden most often don’t even get noticed by anyone, they just slide right in, as quiet as can be. The people need to have reasonable access to what is happening in their names.
I believe the reasons are solid. If government is supposed to be for the people, then the people should have easy and reasonable access. Is that really too much to ask.