Process Saved the Day
When it Comes to Legislation, Processed is Better
By Mark I Posted in Immigration — Comments (4) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
The Senate "comprehensive immigration reform" bill was a bad piece of legislation. That is a large part of the reason why it failed to garner enough votes for cloture yesterday. But largely overlooked by the mainstream media and some opponents of the bill is the process—rather, the lack of process—which the bill was put through.
Normally, crafting legislation is a lot like making sausage. You don’t really want to know all of the details of how the ingredients get in there, but you do want to know that there is a process that gets the sausage to the table. But this immigration bill was not processed, at least not in the usual way. Its creators served it up as if it was a nice filet mignon, no processing required. In reality, it was a turkey. A grade A Butterball©, and it showed. Senate conservatives did what any discerning consumer would do when presented with false goods. They sent it back with no compliments.
The public is not usually partial to the process involved in writing legislation. Forgive the tutorial, but it is instructive to see just what the Democrat controlled Senate, along with a handful of too-sophisticated-to-be-conservative Republicans, was willing to do in order to get this bill passed.
First, Congressmen, Senators, or the White House, in consultation with each other, lawyers, lobbyists, and other interested parties, draft a bill. It is then introduced in one of the two chambers of Congress, where it receives co-sponsors and is referred to the committee of jurisdiction. The committee takes testimony from experts, special interest groups, and perhaps the public. Based on this testimony, the committee marks-up, or amends, the legislation so that it is tailored to address the problems identified as in need of a solution in the testimony. The bill is then sent up to the Congressional chamber in which it originated for more debate and amendments before it is voted on.
That’s the process, for better or worse. There are lots of hurdles, as well as lots of opportunities for horse-trading, not all of which may be completely above board. But that’s the basic outline that has served our nation well for some 230 years. Process is what makes us comfortable that our elected representatives are working in our interest; it makes us believe that they know what they are doing; it convinces us that they know what they are voting on; and it assures us that, ultimately, the laws they pass will be good for the country.
From the very beginning of this immigration debate, the process was all-wrong. That fact, as much as the specifics of the bill, doomed the compromise to failure. The bill was written in secret by a cartel of liberal Democrats and moderate to liberal Republicans in consultation with interest groups. Included in this select group was a White House with crumbling support among its base. There was no introduction, no committee mark-up, and no expert testimony. There was a flawed amendment process, where at first opponents were only allowed to present select amendments that the majority was sure were going to fail. Then, the majority presented one gargantuan amendment, itself some two dozen amendments in a constant state of change, in one great take it or leave it motion. There were a minimum of hurdles, a dearth of opportunities for horse-trading, and a rush to a pre-ordained conclusion.
The process wasn’t legislating in any sense of what America has come to know as legislating. It was more akin to Congressional rule by decree. This was an attempt by Congress to force the American people to accept its wisdom on its say so and not on the familiar process by which Congress discovers its intent. And like the petulant two year olds they are, the American people refused to accept this helping of castor oil, and spit it right back in the face of their nanny Congressmen with hundreds and thousands of angry phone calls, letters blog posts, and yes, calls to talk radio shows.
In the end, the process is as important as the details. Americans are a suspicious and accepting people at the same time. We will accept almost anything our betters tell us, so long as they can back it up. In this immigration debate, Congress and the White House tried to get us to accept their will by sheer force of will, and they met their match. Harry Reid may think that he can bring the immigration compromise bill back. But if he does, he’d better do it the right way. If he tries to attach it to a funding bill, or sneak it in on a conference report, he won’t get away with it. For as much as the people hate the process, they elect Congressmen to go through with it. If they don’t see their representatives following proper procedures, they will again take the process into their own hands.