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December 12, 2006

The Last Week of the 109th Congress

Both the House and the Senate passed a lot of bills last week. Scores of bills. My own rough count has the Senate passing 31 bills and the House 41 bills on Friday alone (and that doesn’t even include resolutions, which don’t have the force of law). The activity on Wednesday and Thursday looked similarly busy. The vast majority of the bills were passed by unanimous consent – even in the House – and unanimous consents aren’t posted in the roll calls (found here and here. I had to go to the Congressional Record’s Daily Digests to find them.

To be sure, much of the work was housecleaning. Many of the bills had already passed both houses, and the vote was for the final post-conference committee version to be sent to the President. But there were also new bills, including one we recently fought against. S. 3546, the Dietary Supplement and Nonprescription Drug Consumer Protection Act, passed without debate in the House and by unanimous consent in the Senate. This bill would have put food supplements under some of the same onerous safety requirements as drugs. The extra regulation will cause prices to rise, which will discourage consumption of vitamins and other supplements and potentially cause malnutrition.

It is beyond our capability to analyze everything Congress did in the last week, or even to count how many pages of legislation they passed. What we do know is

:• Congress is guilty of “too much, too late.” No one in Congress could possibly be well-informed on even a small fraction of the bills they passed, let alone have time to read them;
• No one in Congress could possibly have considered the impact that each bill they passed would have on innocent Americans;
• Most members of Congress care more about being seen as “doing something” rather than stand in the way of legislation they don’t understand or haven’t read;
• Congress was in session just two weeks after the November 8 election, and is now adjourned until January 4. It could have worked until the 22nd. It could have worked between Christmas and New Years, as plenty of Americans do. What was the rush to pass everything all at once and leave?

Imagine how many bills would have passed if Congress had to read them. Imagine how many would have passed if each bill was posted on the Internet for seven days before the votes were cast – allowing time for constituents to let their views be known. If we had the Read the Bills Act, Congress wouldn’t behave as it does.

On the brighter side, Congress did pass several “continuing resolutions” rather than actual budget reauthorization acts. Quoting the Senate Glossary, a continuing resolution is “legislation in the form of a joint resolution enacted by Congress, when the new fiscal year is about to begin or has begun, to provide budget authority for Federal agencies and programs to continue in operation until the regular appropriations acts are enacted.” In short, funding will continue in 2007 at 2006 levels, until an official budget is passed. And frankly, it’s not a bad way to do business. If the federal government operated by continuing resolutions month after month and year after year, spending levels would not increase and new pork wouldn’t be added in budget bills.

But the best news is that the 109th Congress, the Congress of Real ID and Patriot II, the Congress famous for earmarks, Katrina pork, and Jack Abramoff, has come to an end. We have no illusions about the 110th Congress with a new party in control, but at least we can enjoy the holidays with Congress adjourned and neither party in power.

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