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Any measure that would seek to alleviate public anxiety about the way Congress operates deserves full debate. Rep. Mia Love's bill should provoke an illuminating discussion, which by itself would be worth the time spent, whatever the outcome.
Today is Inauguration Day. President-elect Donald Trump will soon be endowed with immense power as commander-in-chief.
But, chief among Trumps’ duties should be restoring America’s trust in the federal government, especially Congress. Trump, after all, campaigned on changing the way Washington does business.
One proposal he should consider supporting is Utah Rep. Mia Love’s bill that would bring substantial changes to the way Congress makes laws and appropriates money.
Her proposal is to limit all legislation to clearly labeled single-subject bills — virtually doing away with the use of large and complex omnibus bills. Her legislation deserves to be heard if there is real interest in exploring ways to make government more responsive and transparent.
Given Trump’s desire to “drain the swamp,” the Republican Congress is more likely to get behind the measure. It is the second time Love has proposed the idea, and it mirrors a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, as well as bills proposed in 2012 and 2013.
The proposal is to simplify the legislative process by eliminating practices like “logrolling,” in which unrelated items are tacked on to a bill, sometimes at the last minute without a lot of public discussion. Forty-two states, including Utah, have such policies in place to promote accountability and openness in state legislatures.
It’s hard to argue against the values of accountability and openness, but there is another side to the story. The current process in Congress, as byzantine as it may seems to most Americans, provides a mechanism for compromise, allowing lawmakers to trade votes in order to increase support for items of legislation that otherwise may not be able to succeed on their own. Critics of single-subject proposals say important measures that benefit the public may not get passed if they are unable to ride on the coattails of other legislation. Rep. Love’s legislation, they argue, could counter-intuitively lead to an even less effective legislature.
Congress, however, currently suffers from historically low approval ratings. Tales of backroom dealings in which pork-barrel projects and special-interest considerations find their way into unrelated bills only adds to public mistrust.
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Trump campaigned to end Washington’s quid pro quo, lobbyist-saturated culture. Love is right to champion a proposal that would make it easier for the public to track legislation from beginning to end and help restore confidence in Congress.
There are of course persuasive arguments both for and against the practice of single-subject legislation, and all of them deserve to be heard. But any measure that would seek to alleviate public anxiety and bolster trust in the way Congress operates deserves full debate.
As America welcomes a new president, Congress would do well to understand some of the reasons why the nation elected Trump and find ways to fix perceptions that have undermined the public’s trust of Washington.