The Corner

The Immigration Bill (Or Is It the Corker-Hoeven Amendment?): Everything That Is Wrong with Washington

I was just watching Senator Ted Cruz’s floor speech in opposition to the atrocious immigration bill and took note of a remarkable exchange between Senators Cruz and Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and mastermind of the legislation. The short YouTube video is worth your time (Schumer interrupts about a minute in). Cruz pointed out that the hefy 1,200-page Corker-Hoeven Amendment was dropped like a stealth bomb late Friday with supporters now pushing for an immediate vote when it is perfectly obvious that no one could possibly have read, studied and analyzed the proposal. As if it were a defense, Schumer insisted that of the 1,200 pages “only” 100 pages are new, and that certainly a senator should be able to read “only” 100 pages of “important legislation” over a weekend.

Let’s pretend Schumer is correct — and he’s not: Senator Corker says it is actually 119 new pages. When a bill is amended in a sneaky manner, as this one has been, no responsible senator could just read 100 new pages. The amendments are interspersed thoughout the bill — it’s not like you could sit and read them as a unit, even if you had the time. Since the proponents are clearly trying to pull a fast one, prudence, as Senator Cruz pointed out, would dictate rereading every line of text, old and new, to search for insertions — and, indeed, news reports indicate that numerous new buy-offs and pot-sweeteners have been inserted. 

But there is a larger point: no “important legislation” should be 100 pages long, much less 1,200 (or the even more mind-boggling girth of monstrosities like Obamacare). The United States Constitution is about 4,500 words long — outfits like Cato and Heritage publish it in small pamphlets that can be read in a few minutes. Nowadays, not only are the bills so gargantuan that no one could conceivably master them and predict their consequences; each page produces even more pages of regulations. They can’t even be lifted, much less digested.

You cannot have a functioning democratic republic when the laws are so voluminous no one can know what the law is. And that is especially the case when (a) the rationale for passing new laws — according to “reform” proponents like Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Paul Ryan — is that we don’t enforce the laws currently on the books; (b) key parts of legislation consist of commitments to do what previously enacted law already commands; and (c) the president, notwithstanding his oath to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, claims the power to refrain from enforcing whatever laws he disapproves of. Washington has made a farce of the legislative process and of the once proud boast that we are ”a nation of laws not men.” 

In his excellent little book A Matter of Interpretation, Justice Antonin Scalia recalls that the emperor Nero would post edicts high up on the pillars — it was a pretense of having the rule of law that barely camouflaged the reality of arbitrary and tyrranical enforcement. That is what we have now. It is what happens when a government gets so big no one any longer recognizes either the limits or why it is essential to have limits.

Whatever the merits of the legislation (and who can say with confidence what they are?), the senate process alone is reason enough to vote against it. World’t greatest deliberative body? It is astounding that any lawmaker could vote for this beast and still call himself a conservative supporter of limited government. 

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