USA TODAY, December 12, 2014
Government by Cromnibus – blind, deaf and dumb: Column
by James Bovard
The Know-Nothing Party Rules Us All
“You can lead a man to Congress but you can’t make him think,” quipped Milton Berle in 1950. Last night’s House of Representatives’ approval of the 1,603 page, $1 trillion Cromnibus bill also shows you cannot make congressmen read. Unfortunately, as usual, politicians refused to let their ignorance restrain their power over Americans’ lives and tax dollars.
After spending much of the Fall re-applying for their current jobs, members of Congress returned to Washington and heaved all of their overdue work into a 15-pound pile of paper which no individual member had time to comprehend before approving. House Speaker John Boehner pooh-poohed any concerns about the process: “Understand, all these provisions in the bill have been worked out in a bicameral, bipartisan fashion or else they wouldn’t be in the bill.” And never before in American history have there been any problems from the deals that Republican and Democratic pooh-bahs carved out behind closed doors.
The bill unleashes a blizzard of new dictates regarding marijuana in Washington, D.C., bread in school cafeterias, sleepy truckers, portrait painting in federal offices, reckless speculation by federally-insured banks, campaign contributions from rich folks, lecherous congressional aides, and dozens of other subjects. Both conservatives and liberals are outraged at provisions popped into the bill with no warning or public hearing. But congressmen believe they are entitled to rule regardless. North Carolina Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger captured that mindset perfectly when he declared shortly before the vote: “Let’s go govern.”
Some defenders of Congress act like the Cromnibus process is an aberration—like a once-a-decade family reunion where a thrice-removed cousin goes on a bender and smashes up a few tables. But this is more like the depraved uncle who goes on a liquored-up rampage at every Christmas dinner.
Congress in recent years has repeatedly heaped vast amounts of legislation and appropriations into a single bill. Sen. David Boren of Oklahoma observed in 1991 that congressional “bills are five times longer on the average than they were just as recently as 1970, with a far greater tendency to micromanage every area of government.” Each time such a mega-bill passes, the months afterwards are filled with congressmen caterwauling about how they were victimized by unnoticed provisions in the bill.
Ignorance of the law is an excuse only for the congressmen who voted for the law. And the thicker a legislative bill becomes, the more recklessly congressmen behave. Remember the ObamaCare bill, which, at one point, clocked in at 2400 pages.
The Cromnibus debacle occurred in part because congressmen are simply too important to read. A 1977 survey revealed that the average congressman spends only 11 minutes a day reading at work. The results of that survey were so embarrassing that no follow-up has been done in subsequent decades. There is no evidence that today’s representatives are more bookish than their 11-minute-a-day predecessors. Perhaps this is a venerable tradition; Will Rogers suggested in the 1920s that representatives adopt the slogan “Why sleep at home when you can sleep in Congress?”
Cromnibus would not have passed without congressmen’s grandiose self-delusions of benevolence. California Democratic Rep. Sam Farr yesterday urged his colleagues to support Cromnibus: “Hold your nose and make this a better world.” Politicians believe they are so superior to common folks that citizens will be better off even when politician have little clue of what they are dictating to the American people.
Earlier this week, many congressmen justifiably railed at Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber for publicly scoffing at the stupidity of voters. But do congressmen not recognize that they have “out-Grubered” Gruber by carelessly rubber-stamping a 1600-page Pandora’s Box?
It will be weeks or months until we learn all the ways that the Cromnibus imperils Americans’ liberties and wastes their tax dollars. But we already know that the struggle between Democrats and Republicans is a myth. There is only one party in Washington: the Know Nothing Party.
James Bovard is the author, most recently, of a new e-book memoir, Public Policy Hooligan.