As much as I hate to admit it, having repeatedly extolled the virtues of the American legislative system over the Canadian one, they do have some fundamental flaws in common. Obviously, they both have problems making lawmakers responsive to constituents instead of party leadership or special interests, but we’ll get to that another time. (As if we haven’t gotten to that enough times already.) I’m talking about inches-thick bills that often cover multiple, unrelated policy matters, like last week’s behemothic highway-student loan-flood insurance bill, with little to no time for lawmakers to read through it all. At least the American Senate has someone willing to put a stop to this, which is days’ worth of snarking more than I can say for the Canadian Parliament.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced legislation that would give members of Congress one day of reading time for every 20 pages of a bill. (One day for 20 pages? I was reading at a faster rate than that when I was five.) There is already a 48-hour reading period in place, he says, but it is rarely enforced, if ever. In a separate bill — for the sake of consistency and all — he called on Congress to restrict all legislation to one topic. If anything could make the No Labels crowd collectively wet itself over Paul, this is it. And given his track record when it comes to people who disagree with him, I must emphasize it. You’ll never read that again.
At the risk of coming off like the skunk at the garden party, I feel it incumbent upon myself to point out some potential drawbacks:
1. The definition of “topic.” Let’s say we were dealing with a transportation funding bill. Could anyone add any topic that even remotely relates to transportation? Or does it only concern a single highway in Kentucky? Or something else altogether?
2. The fact that, in the absence of earmarks, policy riders have become a way to secure crucial individual votes. This could — I must stress could because I might be worrying over nothing — end up superseding the efficiency argument for Paul’s second bill.
These are a couple of arguments that could be used as roadblocks in the way of both of these bills. But you can’t deny that the problems that they’re meant to address are enormous. How often have we been hearing about bills that lawmakers neglected to read? Or pieces of vital legislation being held up because some fool chose that moment to add another provision on abortion? If Paul’s bills can help that, I’m all for them.
Of course, I might take him more seriously if I didn’t know that he once tried to add a provision on Pakistan to an agriculture bill. But, hey, the existing system almost let him do it. He’s quite inconsistently consistent.