Posted on April 4, 2011As anybody who ever watched Schoolhouse Rock in the 1970’s knows (“I am just a bill, I am only a bill and I am sitting here on Capitol Hill, but I hope to be a law one day, oh, yes I know that I will, but today I am still just a bill”), it is awfully hard to make a law in this country.
You need to get a bill introduced in House Committee, have it considered on the House floor, have it introduced to a Senate Committee, pass the Senate, reconcile the two versions between the two bodies, have both versions pass both bodies again, and then send it to the President for his signature. If the President doesn’t like it, the bill goes back to the Congress, where the House and Senate can override the veto with a two-thirds vote or they can start the process over again.
This complicated process was designed to make it hard to make new laws. Despite the will of the founders, though, the Congress makes plenty of laws. Some of these laws are good ones. Many, though, are really bad.
The sad thing is that it is even harder to repeal bad laws than it is to make new ones. This is true for a couple of reasons.
First, there is the ego factor. Members of Congress don’t like to be embarrassed. And repealing a bad law that has your name on it is very embarrassing. To avoid embarrassment, the members would rather have a bad law continue on the books than to have the embarrassment of having your law repealed by the Congress.
Second is schedule. The Congress only has a certain amount of time to get its work done. They would rather spend their time passing new laws than repealing old ones. It is better for the next election.
Third is bureaucracy. Once a law is passed, a bureaucracy is created to implement the law. The regulatory process commences, people are hired, advocates are created, and a dynamic evolves where the people who want the law to stay in place are more passionate than the folks who want it repealed.
This process ought to change. We should put in place a system where it is far easier to get rid of laws than it is to put them into law in the first place.
I contend that each law should come with an expiration date. If a law proves to be successful and popular, then it should have no problem getting reauthorized. If a law proves to problematic or stupid, it should be allowed to expire.
Because Congress would never willfully put an expiration date on a piece of legislation, the Constitution should be amended to require an expiration date on all new laws (and all old laws, for that matter).
Only with an expiration date can the American people be certain that the legal code reflects common-sense and reason. And plus, if we had an expiration date, I guarantee we would have a lot less wasteful, stupid and expensive government. That could be the first step to a balanced budget.