Serving Conjecture: The Pork Barrel Epidemic Judging a Bill by its Title
Carona viruses are nothing knew. The cold is a corona virus. And that annoying pest has been with us forever. But, as we have moved through this Covid-19 situation, another, much later disease has become rampant: The Pork Barrel.
Wikipedia defines the Pork Barrel as such: The term “pork‐barrel politics” refers to instances in which ruling parties channel public money to particular constituencies based on political considerations, at the expense of broader public interests”.
In essence, a pork barrel is any provision of a bill that outlines money to be spent on issues not related to the purpose of that bill. This is done in order to pass resolutions that would not find support on their own. Imagine if an anti-child pornography bill had tacked on the ability to spy on Americans in general? Could you imagine any politician being willing to be branded pro-child pornography by refusing to vote for it? Or similar alleviations of restrictions in bills passed after 9/11?
They also serve to keep the people of this country in the dark about what exactly a bill will do. Let's face it; congressional transparency in this day and age is a joke. Most people won't read a bill do to several factors including length, not wanting to wade through legalize, and lacking the time to do either. Most, instead, will simply listen to their propaganda channel of choice, trusting on accurate dissemination of the bill's contents. Or they'll simply trust that the bill focus on the purported purpose defined in the title.
Often, Pork Barrels take the form of riders to bills. Riders are addendums to a bill tacked on by someone other than the bill's author. And, often, these riders have little to no relation to the bill they are tacked onto. But sometimes the only way to get a bill to pass is to make such concessions.
During the Coronavirus pandemic the use of Pork Barrels has reached an all time high. The US senate was the first to package an economic relief bill together in March of 2020, to the tune of 1 trillion dollars. Yet it failed to materialize when Democrats accused it of providing too much money for big business. Yet, when a similar bill in the house was drafted 2 months later it included nearly twice the money to big business, while citing the exact same wording they were so critical of before. Many critics of the bill noted an overwhelming amount of pork and unrelated policies in it as well. Subsequent stimulus bills have drawn similar criticisms.
As the link to riders above shows, not all politicians believe this is a good practice. Presidents since Reagan have asked for line item veto powers that would allow them to reject such pork while keeping the original bill intact. Sadly the Supreme Court felt it would give those presidents too much power over the wording of the bill without an amendment to change the Presentment Clause.
In another approach to curb pork in bills, some politicians have banded together to introduce OSTA (the One Subject at a Time Act). Sadly it has gained little support and currently sits in bill limbo.
But even this bill, while definitely a step in the right direction, falls short. It does not answer the question of what is considered germane to a subject. We live in a complex system of systems, each interconnected and related to others. If you try hard enough, you can link a living wage to a bill designed to stop child pornography. You can link anti-abortion policies to Interstate maintenance.
It also does not address the other major tactic used to keep the people of this country in the dark over what each bill is truly about: readability. Most bills are hundreds of pages of legalize, all so long, and so difficult to wade through that most people simply don't have the time. It's much easier to pick one side (in this case Republican or Democrat) and listen to what they tell you about said bill.
And that's the root of this problem. Most Americans won't read through all of that to try and find the pork. They have lives and families and jobs, you see. So we trust that our representatives are doing their work honestly. Sadly, that trust has been broken far too often. So I propose this: instead of trying to create a complicated set of rules over what is, or is not germane, we impose a page limit. What if a bill could be no more than a page (as a random, nonspecific, number) of 10pt Courier font, in plain English (solely because it is the most commonly spoken language in America)? No short hand is allowed. Need more room? Start another bill. Surely, if it's relevant, and the first bill will pass, this will to, right?
Now, quite suddenly, there's no room for the raft of other issues that keep getting tacked on. Now, quite suddenly, there's no room for the legalize that overcomplicates these important documents. Now, quite suddenly, any American can read the entire text of a bill in the time of a restroom break. Hell, in this modern era they could read it during. Now that's Congressional Transparency.