MN-08 : Pillars Collapse, Cravaack and the New Way to Pass Legislation

Schoolhouse Rock : How a Bill Becomes a Law :

When I started, I wasn’t even a bill, I was just an idea.
Some folks back home decided they wanted a law passed, so they called their local congressman, and he said, “You’re right, there oughta be a law.”
And he sat down and he wrote me out, and introduced me to Congress, and I became a bill.
And I’ll remain a bill until they decide to make me a law.

Students of civics know the rest of the story … the bill gets a hearing, debated, approved by a committee, then the full House … onto the Senate … onto the President for possible veto … then it becomes law by either a veto-override or the signature of the President.

That’s so Old School.

Admittedly, when John Boehner announced his Pillars of a New Majority pledging for more involvement at the committee level and adequate time to read legislation prior to voting so that nothing could be buried deep inside a bill … well, voters had to be pleased … the End of Backroom Deals !

And the 112th Congress brought a new wave of Members … including Raymond Cravaack (R-MN-08). Mr. Cravaack, who earned the nickname “Crash” during his Air Force service days, certainly was not going to “crash” the pillars of this renewed openness.

Mr. Cravaack has only authored a few pieces of legislation (5 to be precise) … including the non-controversial H.R. 3202 naming Pine City, Minnesota, as the “Master Sergeant Daniel L. Fedder Post Office”.
As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Mr. Cravaack’s initial piece of legislation fell within that area …. authoring H.R.801: Truck Weight Uniformity Act of 2011 on February 18, 2011 … where it has sat.

HR 801 is a nationwide reform bill that adjusts the upper weight limit on Interstate trucking. The legislation does not call for additional charges for the additional tonnage (normally up to $250 per year), nor does it require states to report periodically to the federal DOT on impacts to existing infrastructure.

Now, admittedly, many citizens do not list adjusting truck weight limits as a major issue that Congress needs to address … but it is important to some business interests.

What can Mr. Cravaack to do when the House has so many other pressing issues that it feels compelled to address … voting 396-9-2 that “In God We Trust” should remain the country’s motto, voting 248-175 to affirm opposition same-sex marriage, voting 272-154 to approve the H.R. 822, the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act, etc.

God, Gays, and Guns are what the GOP is all about … not trucking weights.

Of course, there are other ways … like find a piece of legislation that must be approved and “bury” a policy initiative into funding bill.

Thus with the Federal Government once again relying on continuing resolutions to keep the military and other functions of government working, a “must pass” piece of legislation is pushed down Congress throat.
Thus buried within Mr. Cravaack’s Transportation Committee Appropriations bill is a rider addressing Division C, Title I, Federal Highway Administration, Sec. 125 …
and what does that do …
Section 127(a)(11) of title 23, United States Code, is amended to “Allows 100,000 pound trucks, exceeding federal weight limits, on the Interstate Highway System” in selected states.

Who buried this inside the Transportation Appropriations legislation is unclear, but Boehner’s Pillars of a New Majority has crumbled.

It isn’t just the change in weight restrictions, but the Transportation Appropriations funding also included more than fifteen other policy riders … ranging from prohibiting new rules for Teterboro New Jersey airport (they only airport specifically mentioned … in the old days, this would be called an “earmark” variance) to essential air service communities requirements to assume subsidy costs commonly referred to as the EAS local participation program.

Yep, don’t bother with honest debate within the appropriate committee … just bury it within a must-pass Appropriations bill.
It certainly makes you wonder what the urgency was … of course, the Members of Congress will certainly remind the businesses that benefit from these changes that their re-election campaign war-chests need some replenishing.
And not to worry, with nine more Appropriations funding bills still open including John Kline’s (R-MN-02) Education Appropriations, there will be plenty more opportuntities for “policy riders” to make their way into law … and monies for re-election campaigns.