Bad bills balance good bills.
Bills are not like aces in a card game, diverse bills are not necessarily equivalent. Claiming that any number of bad bills blocked in one chamber of Congress justifies blocking bills in the other chamber is like comparing aces and deuces–they ain’t the same. Nevertheless, we see this argument frequently. To know if the Senate is justified in blocking bills passed by the House or vice-versa, one needs to understand the quality and purpose of those bills.
Bills can be judged by a count.
Legislators introduce as many bills as they please. Most bills have slight chance of emerging from committee, passing both houses, and being signed into law. Many bills are introduced for political effect. Bills that do come up for a vote have the approval of majority party leaders. Thus, counting bills is a meaningless exercise. Nevertheless, some legislators tout the number of bills introduced or note the number of bills blocked by a rival party.
Which bills are good or bad is a matter of opinion.
Bills must be judged by objective standards:
- Is the purpose worthwhile.
- Is the objective met.
- Are there undesirable consequences
- Is the cost justified.
By requiring a CBO cost estimate, Congress recognizes the importance of cost. Republicans sometimes recognize the importance of cost when they insists added costs should be offset.
The other standards are less often recognized; for example, Tom Reed is notorious for ignoring undesirable consequences–in promoting his bill, HR 4719, he fails to mention the consequence of adding to the deficit let alone the fact that his bill is unlikely to be passed by the Senate.
For spending bills, Congress too often looks only at cost rather than cost effectiveness. Bills should be judged not by their cost, but whether the measure is worthwhile and the cost is justified.
Sure, reasonable people will disagree, but it is refreshing when a plausible reason is cited for disagreement.
© William Hungerford – July 2014