I am going to start my column this week with a quote from Otto von Bismarck, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”
Bismarck — whose full name and title was Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck Duke of Lauenburg — was the first Chancellor of Germany. He lived from 1815 to 1898.
His observation was true in the 19th Century and it is true today.
The U.S. Constitution is considered to be the best document ever written. But it is not perfect.
Case in point.
Last month Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history to allocate $2.2 trillion in support to individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic and economic downturn.
Before the bill was passed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., proved Bismarck’s point by temporarily derailing the bill and holding it hostage with a wish list unrelated to the ongoing pandemic.
They included the following:
• $35 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
• $300 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
• Debt forgiveness for the U.S. Postal Service
• Tax credits for solar panels and windmills
• Emissions regulations for airlines
• Guaranteed seats for Big Labor on corporate boards
• New rules on “the diversity of depository institutions”
• Corporate information requirements on “work-life balance initiatives”
• Corporate reporting mandates on employees’ “gender, race, and ethnic identity”
• Comparative statistics on company pay “amongst racial and ethnic minorities (and to the extent possible, results disaggregated by ethnic group) as compared to their white counterparts” and “between men and women for similar roles and assignments”
• Starting with this November’s election, Pelosi wanted every state that accepted COVID-19 relief money to guarantee at least 14 days of early voting; absentee ballots mailed to all registered voters, whether requested or not; a ban on voter ID cards; prohibition of notarization or witness signatures to authenticate absentee ballots; free return postage on such ballots; and self-sealing envelopes for same plus more.
Due to public outrage, most of these demands were dropped after a delay of five days, although $25 million for the Kennedy Center survived.
If the expenditures that Pelosi was pushing are worthy they should be able to stand on their own merit. I’m sure she saw this as an opportunity to pass legislation that she has been pressured by lobbyists to address.
One of those lobbyists may have been the National Newspaper Association pushing for debt forgiveness for the U.S. Postal Service.
Hostage amendments like these happen when power is split between the two political parties. Party A wants desperately to pass a piece of legislation. So, Party B wants its amendments added in return for its support.
Pelosi is certainly not the first politician in power to pull a stunt like this. I am sure that there have been Republicans just as guilty as this example. This is just the most recent, plus it is fresh on everyone’s mind.
My point is not against Pelosi’s actions — which I think are wrong in this instance — but the need to amend the U.S. Constitution.
To help alleviate this problem on the state level 43 state constitutions include some sort of “single-subject” rule, that is, the requirement that each act of the legislature is limited to a single subject.
Missouri is one of those states. Adopted into the Missouri State Constitution, the single-subject rule states that “should any piece of duly debated and enacted legislation deviate in subject content from what is expressed in its title, even by the smallest technical error, that bill is subject to judicial repeal.”
In layman’s terms, a legislator cannot add an amendment to a bill that has nothing to do with the original intent of the law.
There are those who argue against the single-subject rule, pointing out it can be too vague. I think it is a debate our society needs to have.
Perhaps it could be the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.