Constitutional amendment - single subject clause

Reading about the bailout bill today, the article mentioned that all the added “deal sweeteners” could ultimately raise the cost of the bailout another $150 billion. Being against the bailout in the first place, the possible additional cost from what amounts to pork angers me even more.

Some states have a “single subject rule” that state legislation must comply with. The Illinois Constitution contains such a clause:

So except for the annual budget spending bill, any legislation passed must deal with only one subject or it will be repealed. The rationale is that each piece of legislation should be evaluated on its own merits, and not subject to any “sweetening”.

I think such a rule, perhaps combined with a line item veto amendment, would increase the transparency of the federal government and force Congress to legislate in a more responsible manner. What do you think?

A line item veto amendment transfers power from the hands of the legislature, which has voluntarily already surrendered much of its power, to an overly powerful executive.

The way to force Congress to legislate more responsibly is to vote people out who don’t vote responsibly. If people aren’t willing to do that, then there is a major question as to whether they want “responsible” representatives.

A line item veto is easily subject to abuse by the Presidency. Suppose a majority in Congress wants to increase estate taxes and the President wants funding for some ongoing military operation. They work out a deal where six months of funding for the military operation is authorized in exchange for a ten percent increase in estate taxes. Congress passes the bill and sends it to the President - who can now veto the part with the estate taxes and keep just the part of the bill that gives him his military funding.

I used to be for a line item veto, but then I saw how Sarah Palin used it to remove funding to the elderly and handicapped in Alaska, now I’m thinking it’s too much power for the executive branch.

I’m in favor of the proposition put forth in the OP, only without the line item veto. If bills were limited to one subject, a line-item veto would be unnecessary.

Congress has tremendous power that they have voluntarily abdicated to the President in recent years. That’s partly why this Congress has such a low approval rating.

As for the “vote the bums out” option, all Congressional candidates promise to vote responsibly, but the culture of Washington and the demands of politics warp them. I don’t understand why we continue to hope and pray that our representatives do the right thing as they let us down over and over again. If they’ve proven time and again that they can’t pass legislation without cramming unrelated riders into it and turning any bill into a gigantic, incomprehensible mess, then why not take away their power to do so? The bailout bill went from 3 pages to 451 pages (!). How is anyone supposed to evaluate that?

As for the line item veto, I generally agree that it puts too much power in the hands of the President, but it’s the only method I can think of to curb the waste that occurs in the normal appropriations bills.

I am not sure I would count “from the 1930s” as being “in recent years.”

People have every right to take away the power of legislators who abuse the system. Transfering the power from the legislature to the executive is not a method I feel overly comfortable with, though, when the alternative method of voting them out is already present. The last 8 years especially make me very unlikely to support expanding the imperial powers of the Presidency any further.

Then you’ve got to figure out just what constitutes a single subject. “The subject of this Bill will be the recussitation of the failing economy. This Bill will accomplish this goal by advancing loans of 700 billion dollars to the financial services sector; by introducing tighter regulations on the operation of Fannie May and Freddie Mac, and by allocating 1.3 million dollars for the establishment of a Hog-Farming Museum in Senator Blowhard’s hometown of Nowhere, Iowa.”

A line-item veto has similar problems: Either you don’t define what constitutes an “item” in a bill, in which case the President vetoes the word “not” and leaves everything else intact, or you do define “item”, and you get “Item #372: Congress shall allocate 200 million dollars for the purchase of advanced combat armor for US military troops and 1.3 million dollars for the Blowhard Memorial Hog-Farming Museum”.

The powers of the Executive are set out in the Constitution. Any increased Executive authority outside of what’s set out in the Constitution is a consequence of Congress legislating that authority. It’s not permanent. Congress can take it back.

The entire Bush administration has been marked by an almost blank check for the President to do whatever he wants, and Congress just going along with it. A majority can take back control of the government if they have the institutional will to do so.

We get the government we asked for. People can complain about pork but they’ll vote for the guy who sends money home to their district.

Yes and no. By focusing on the last 8 years of Executive Power Grab, you are missing out on the true surrender from Congress to the executive - the development of the administrative state through the (dubiously constitutional) non-delegation doctrine.

There is a lot more to be rolled back than just what Shrub has done.

So why do you want a line item veto, which will transfer even more power to the Executive? With a line item veto, a President would have a powerful tool to twist the arms of any member of Congress. And God help those who are not in the same party as the President! You can’t have it both ways by complaining that Congress doesn’t stand up for itself enough and then hand the Executive a bludgeon with which to get Congress to do his bidding.

And I havent’ even mentioned that your constitutional amendment would further weaken Congress. If the President wants bill A, but opposes bill B, which Congress supports, right now Congress can pass the A&B bill and dare the President to veto it. That constitutional amendment would mean Congress would never have a chance to produce bills that have any give and take in them to reflect the priorities of Congress. That is how this Congress raised the minimum wage last year. Do you think Bush would have signed a minimum wage increase after he had fought against it for six years? Once again, you can’t have it both ways: both complain that Congress doesn’t have any power and propose ideas that would take power away from Congress.

I’ve said in GQ in recent days that the pork in this bill is a whole lot of nothing. So far as I can tell, every one of those provisions, from the wooden arrows to the Puerto Rican rum thing, have been the law for several years. These were all parts of a bill that was passed by both houses earlier this year, although in different forms, either one of which was nearly impossible to pass the other body.

Plus, the news media has got it completely wrong why these tax extenders were viewed with such favor. Sure, individuals congressmen would have liked to have had these little pork items, but the really tempting thing about adding the tax extenders to the bailout package WAS NOT THE PORK. It was the extension of the AMT fix. If that isn’t/wasn’t passed, something like 30 million Americans would have been subject to a huge tax increase due to the Alternative Minimum Tax. Nobody wanted to see that happen. I contend that the pork was just along for the ride.

I’m not wedded to the idea of a line item veto, it’s just an idea I threw out there. If anyone has an idea for dealing with appropriations bill pork besides relying solely on the integrity of our representatives, I’m all ears.

I think you misunderstand how the amendment works. As long as bill A and bill B relate to the same subject there’s nothing wrong with combining them.

You mention the AMT fix. What does the AMT have to do with a bill bailing out Wall Street? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! That’s my point: if the bailout is worthwhile legislation, it could have been passed on its own merits, not stuffed with unrelated expenditures to make it more politically palatable. All it does is take attention away from the most important expenditure in the bill, the very reason for its existence.

Pork doesn’t really bother me that much. It’s at most $18 billion a year in a $2.7 trillion budget. I just laugh when folks like McCain leave people with the impression that pork is a significant cause of the budget deficit. It is about half of one percent of Federal spending. It is decimal dust.

I do think there ought to be more oversight and review of what things get earmarked. Not because some stuff sounds silly (i.e., IIRC, there was a recent news story that the wooden arrow thing is in there because an earlier change in taxes would have really hurt the last remaining manufacturer of wooden arrows in the US; the implication being that if the tax increase wasn’t addressed, it’d just be more jobs shipped off to China) because sometimes there’s more of a story to things like this than what is portrayed in a news headline. A congressman directing some pork to fix a bridge or save an industry, I think is probably a good thing, overall.

I am concerned that there can be shady dealings, like the Duke Cunningham story where millions of dollars go somewhere in which no value to returned to the government or the taxpayer.

And let’s remember: nobody talks a word about pork the President puts in the budget. If Tom DeLay called up Bush and said, “Hey, I need a new bridge, George, can you put it in the budget?” what the hell about the President’s budget request makes it’s farts smell like roses?

As I said before, the minimum wage increase was tacked on an unrelated bill. So we’re back to the same point: if you want the minimum wage increase to be signed into law, you have to put it with something that the President really wants. Would you prefer that the minimum wage not have been increased?

And if God wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings. Sometimes good things need a little assistance.

I think the single subject amendment idea is fantastic.

There would be no legitimate argument left for giving the president a line item veto. The only thing a line item veto does is give the current president’s party more power in the legislature. A line item veto is too much extra leverage, and a whole new dimension of “pork”. Do you really think presidents wont use the threat of a line item veto to get congress to do what he wants? It’s like basically handing the current president’s party a 2/3 majority in congress, regardless of what the actual numbers of legislators they have elected is.