On Tuesday of last week (19 May), the U.S. Senate passed a bill tightening the rules by which credit card companies can raise interest rates. The bill passed by a vote of 90 to 5, quite substantial. There are many other provisions in it related to credit cards, designed to protect consumers from nasty practices by the lenders.
The bill, as passed by the Senate, also includes (according to the NPR report) an amendment allowing people to carry concealed guns in U.S. national parks.
This is related to the item I wrote some time ago, about a law against computer piracy that included an amendment designating the oak as the national tree. It’s a miserable way to make legislation. Take a bill that no one can be seen to be voting against — in this case, a law protecting consumers against evil lenders — and stick on some pet project, often something that would get little support otherwise, but not so bad that it’s worth being “the guy who voted against the consumer” to avoid.
And, of course, the public will mostly hear about the credit card stuff, and won’t really understand that someone made a deal and rammed a law through that allows people to pack weapons into national parks.
But it doesn’t matter whether it’s a concealed-carry law or the designation of the oak as the national tree. This is a miserable way to make legislation, and it has to stop.
To be sure, we’d have to be careful in how we stop it; we certainly can’t hog-tie the legislative process by forbidding amendments to proposed legislation, and it makes sense to have multiple related things in the same bill. But the key word there is “related”. The way to stop it is to forbid (or place strict restrictions on) the inclusion of unrelated items in the same bill. Computer piracy and oak trees are clearly unrelated. As are credit-card interest rates and the carrying of guns in national parks.
Unfortunately, it probably would be hard to specify exactly how closely connected two items have to be, and drawing the line clearly would be a challenge.
Unfortunately, too, this is an all-too-common way for legislators to make deals with each other. “I’ll vote for your bill if you put my little project onto it,” is a typical way for the wrangling to go, as one legislator needs a few more votes, and another needs a home for a small thing that would never get passed on its own.
When the pet project is of no great consequence, the practice is merely silly, perhaps a minor annoyance at worst. But when it involves something as important as whether or not visitors to our national parks are allowed to carry concealed arms, the consequences are great, and decision on such an item can’t be hidden within the vote on a larger bill.