Bills slated for first 100 hours of House better left undone

By Freedom Newspapers

Perhaps the worst aspect of new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s promise to pass a passel of poll-tested bills during the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress is that the exercise will not be over after 100 hours as ordinary mortals count them. The countdown doesn’t begin, as Democrats calculate matters, until Tuesday, and then only those hours when the House is officially in session and voting — somewhat less than the eight hours most of us view as a working day — will be “official.”

Let politicians loose in the world of numbers, and things get fuzzy immediately. This 100 hours is likely to last for several weeks.

That generous grant of what we might call politicians’ time still won’t allow, however, for such trivial matters as committee hearings, amendments offered and debated or substantive change. No, House Democratic leaders announced in December that showing resolve and determination in a dramatic fashion was so important that most bills would not get committee hearings. They plan to ram these measure through as-is, in the best Tom DeLay manner.

The only thing funnier than Democrats adopting practices they excoriated when Republicans used them is Republicans whining about it.

The package includes bills that fund stem cell research, discourage earmarks, ban gifts, entertainment and junket travel for members (with some exceptions), raise the minimum wage, enact pay-as-you-go budgeting, implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, allow the government to “negotiate” drug prices in the recently enacted Medicare Part D, halve the interest rate on student loans, and raise taxes on and eliminate subsidies for oil companies and transfer the goodies to “alternative” energy.

Some of these proposals are not too bad. Others are quite bad.

Stem cell research is controversial, but nobody has banned it. Federal funding is not vital to scientific and medical progress; it is more likely to misdirect funds than to speed discovery. America should be moving to more reliance on private institutions for research, including more basic research.

Earmarks are funding for pet projects placed in legislation by individual members in the final hours before passage. The Democrats don’t propose to ban these porky endeavors, simply to make the process more transparent and require recipients to report how much they spent on registered lobbyists. It’s a nice gesture, and disclosure is good, but this will turn out to be relatively toothless in really curbing earmarks.

The restrictions on lobbying affect lobbyists more than members of Congress. Since the restrictions involve lots of paperwork and reporting, they will fall hardest on those few lobbying organizations that most closely resemble genuine grass-roots efforts; the big boys will absorb the added costs fairly easily.

More fundamentally, as long as Congress pokes its legislative and regulatory nose into so many aspects of life, giving government the power to make or break certain businesses, those most directly affected will find ways to influence the process. The process won’t get cleaner until there is less influence to peddle.

Pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO, would require new or expanded entitlement spending to be fully paid for by reductions in other spending or with tax increases. Nice idea, but a previous incarnation (1990-2002) was full of holes. The current proposal might make it easier than it is now to raise taxes. Better to control spending by controlling spending.

Raising the minimum wage is mainly a gesture, since many employers already offer more for lowskill jobs, but it will reduce employment opportunities somewhat for those who could use them the most. And it will adversely affect those states with lowest overall pay scales.

Not all the 9/11 Commission recommendations deserve enactment. Government negotiators are unlikely to get better drug deals than existing private-sector players without seriously reducing access to drugs and innovation. Student aid has increased fourfold since 2001, and colleges and students have just begun to absorb those changes. And on and on.

The Senate should hold careful hearings on whatever the House passes during its first 100 hours. And the president would do well to get his veto pen ready.