Unorthodox Lawmaking: New Legislative Processes in the U.S. Congress
They hung, nine in all, from an old hanger. Seemingly planet mobiles are found in every elementary school classroom. The nine planets are ubiquitous. Though scientists now tell us Pluto is technically not a planet. Those nine planets are really only eight.
Needing to cut through one of nature’s hardest material? Easy. We all learned using a diamond, a girl’s best friend, could do it. Everyone knows that a diamond blade is best. That is until now. The diamond is no longer considered the hardest substance.
There are many facts that we have learned over the years in school that no longer hold up. Truisms do not always stay true. Thanks to the meticulous scholarship of Barbara Sinclair, another example would be the legislative process.
In our Introduction to American Government classes we all learned how a bill becomes law. At the very least we watched the “I’m Just a Bill” video. What else did you need? The legislative process seemed routine enough. A bill is introduced, wanders through committees and if lucky enough is debated and voted on in both the House and the Senate. All students of government learned the process. Now we know, however, it just doesn’t really work that way anymore.
Sinclair informs us in her ever-timely book Unorthodox Lawmaking that a “gaping chasm” exists between the legislative process we learned in school and the process that actually is played out in Washington. Rather than abiding by the rules of the game, this book documents that the Congress is all too willing to be “inventive with regard to process.”
“If one route is blocked,” Sinclair writes, “there is always another one can try.” And who is behind this ever changing process? The leadership, of course, is behind this making bad.
Leadership in Congress today is all too willing to use informal processes to get things done. “Because I say so,” is their mantra. Making the simple more complex to improve a bill’s chances is often the leadership’s strategy. “We’re done when I say we’re done” can be heard in the Capitol rotunda. Leadership influence over the Rules Committee in the House is but one example. This new legislative process also relies upon bundling all sorts of bills together, “the sour with the sweet” Sinclair writes.
Sausage making and lawmaking have always been compared. Whether we like it or not, making bad at least is making something. Following Sinclair’s argument we learn that leadership matters much more than we have previously been taught. Listen for the Speaker to say to those that challenge, “Stay out of my territory.” Making bad indeed.
And what is the hardest substance today? The hardest substance today is ultrahard nonotwinner cubic boron nitride.
“Just a Bill on Capitol Hill” was so much easier to remember.