Saturday, August 16, 2014

TFP Column: Getting Off The Bus

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 02/10/2014.

There’s news on the street that in spite of putting forward a position paper two weeks ago on the ground rules for taking on comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the current session, Republicans have reconsidered and are now saying that it’s unlikely such legislation will occur this year.

Some believe that the difficulty lies in tackling such an effort in a year when most Congress members (Democrats and Republicans alike) are far too busy raising money for re-election campaigns.  Others say Republicans are refusing to take up legislation likely to add voters to Democratic voting rolls. Still others believe there’s no point in passing new legislation on the subject when its likely the president will take up his pen, his phone and his Justice Department in the selective enforcement of whatever makes its way to his desk for signature. (Can you say Dream Act?)

Like the multiple reasons that may now be standing in the way of its passage, such comprehensive legislation is often known by a variety of names. Omnibus, for example. The term may seem rather innocent, being often defined as an anthology of works or laws related in theme. In the hands of a twisted national legislature however, a more malevolent interpretation has been adopted. Washington D.C.’s nefarious definition of Omnibus in fact, instead seems to mean:

“A comprehensive list of rules and regulations ostensibly related to a given subject (however tenuously) in such a way so as to obscure both its original meaning and ultimate purpose so well that often even those who propose them no longer have any idea what they mean, nor of the laws of unintended consequences that will inevitably subvert and outweigh any potential benefits that might have accrued as a result of its passage.”   

Why, it was only last week that the president signed the latest bipartisan example of such a nightmare in the form of a 949-page, $956 billion Farm Bill. Twenty percent of the almost $1 trillion over 10 years will serve as belated Christmas gifts to the top four percent of the nation’s corporate agribusinesses for producing things like rice, peanuts and catfish  (with a little left to help Christmas tree farmers). A closer examination might reveal  enough pork included in this particular bus to make it ride more like the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

As for the other 80 percent of the funding, it’s reserved to cover the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as the SNAP, or the food stamp program). While this latest version surprisingly cuts the budget for SNAP, it does so only after allowing it to become a program whose costs have increased 358 percent (from $17 billion to $78 billion) since 2000.

Many however, still wonder why two such dissimilar routes are served by the same omnibus.  It’s said that Democrats like massive entitlement programs and hate subsidies while Republicans can’t resist corporate handouts and hate entitlements. Combining them therefore insures its continued bipartisan support.

Some however, try to deny the political machinations involved. It cannot be denied for example, that some of the things bought with SNAP cards are in fact food. Likewise, some of the agribusinesses receiving subsidies (unlike Fruit of the Loom) actually grow it. Similarly, like all large government programs, this one serving two masters shares the common issues of enormous waste, gross mismanagement and significant fraud.

Of course for those who may have forgotten (which hardly seems possible), we’re still dealing another example of Omnibus legislation: “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” commonly know as Obamacare.  Almost three years after this 2,400 page health care conveyance was created in March 2010, it has run off the road, crashed and burned and probably had more riders thrown under it than carried by it (only after picking them up late).

One can’t help but wonder then why some complain Congress doesn’t pass as many laws in each session as they used to nor take up as much comprehensive legislation. Equally surprising is their disappointment when the Omnibus process for something as important immigration reform stalls. 

Some call it failure and the natural result of the bitter partisanship in a divided Congress. Others call it the inherent laziness of politicians more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing them. While both are probably true enough, I instead consider it a fortunate circumstance indeed when either party decides to step back from the curb and refuse to get on yet another omnibus. 

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