I got an email recently from a regular reader of this blog in Canada with the following question:
Can you please tell me why a Bill would have two or more totally different items on it. For example H.R. 1905 has lets give DC representation and "Amends the Internal Revenue Code to increase (from 110% to 110.1%) the estimated tax payment safe harbor percentage for determining the amount of estimated tax payable by individual taxpayers whose adjusted gross income for the preceding taxable year exceeds $5 million."
Don't get me wrong, I totally understand why they do this. It's like quid quo pro but why have the people of United States tolerated it for so long. It is so obviously manipulative it's baffling. A vote on these two topics on their own is the only true way of serving best interests of the people of United States.
Democratic Senator from California, " I want to protect the Albino Chipmunk"
Republican Senator from Ohio, "Well throw in a new pork belly subsidy and you got my vote!"
Well, I have no extremely profound answer to that question. As mentioned, why it is done is obvious. It is a way for everybody to get what they want by bundling it with what other people want. There might not be enough support for item A on the merits of that item alone, but stick it to something else that people want, and maybe you can make it happen that way.
As to why it is tolerated? Well, mainly because very few people pay attention to what is going on at that level of detail, and most of those who do accept it as "just how things are done". Every once in awhile you get someone proposing solutions to this sort of thing, or to bills that are thousands of pages long that no human being ever reads all of (at least not before voting). But none of those proposals ever go anywhere. Why? Because of the people who could make the changes directly (the rules committees in congress, etc) it would not benefit any of them, because they all take advantage of the existing system. And experience has shown that the public doesn't care or notice, so they don't have to worry about it come election time either.
It is a bad system. But it is a system that reinforces itself and resists change. If it ever did become a huge popular issue in the public consciousness, perhaps there would be change. But this sort of thing is so wonkish and inside the beltway that it would take massive abuse on a huge front and center issue right before an election for anybody but the news junkies to ever notice... and perhaps not even then. And of course even if you DID have the right combination of political events to enact some changes, they would probably be superficial and start to be rolled back as soon as the public looked the other way again. (For examples of this see the post-Watergate restrictions on Presidential power, and the immediate resumption of budget deficits almost as soon as there had been a balanced budget for a couple of years.)
Anyway. Yes, this is an extremely frustrating thing. They really SHOULD only vote on single issue bills that are in easily digestible chunks. But I'm not thinking that will ever happen.