Piggybacking Must Come to an End

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on March 17, 2009

Piggybacking Must Come to an EndThe current recession has brought to the spotlight the dire consequences of piggybacking by the U.S. Congress. Piggybacking is the term used to describe the process of grouping unpopular legislation together with the popular so that the unpopular legislation passes into law.  The legislation attached to one another needn’t concern the same subject.  Piggybacking is very dangerous because it further impedes the ability of congress to vote in a responsible and well informed manner.

There is no greater example of the danger of piggybacking from the passing of The Commodity Futures Modernization Act which, after 91 years, legalized CDS. This irresponsible piece of legislation is currently costing hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payer’s money thru all the bailouts.

Here is what happened: The Commodity Futures Modernization Act was tacked onto a general spending bill designed to provide funding for various governmental departments.  In the House of Representatives, the spending bill began to be discussed on the 8th of June, 2000.  Before the final bill was passed, it was altered to include hundreds of earmarks and to piggyback 14 other bills.  One of the piggybacked bills was the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which was buried in the general spending bill’s 11,000 pages of material.  It is hard to imagine how a member of congress is expected to parse through such a document to understand what they are voting on, especially as the general bill changed from month to month through the earmarking of funds and the attachment of other bills.

Moreover, because these other piggybacked bills needn’t be related to the subject of the original bill, the spirit of the vote became incoherent.  When a member of congress voted on the final “spending bill”, was their vote related to the earmarking of funds to their district, a piggybacked bill that provided community revitalization, another piggybacked bill protecting the welfare of widows and orphans, or the piggybacked bill that made CDSs legal?  Because of piggybacking, it was the same vote.

Just as if piggybacking was not enough of an obstacle to responsible behavior by members of Congress, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act was attached to the general spending bill a day before the end of the session (i.e. December 14th, 2000) and as a result there was no debate on its substance in either the house or the senate.  Given its last minute introduction, who could even had a chance to read it, much less understand its implications, especially when, at the same time, they were expected to vote on the welfare of widows and orphans…

It is ridiculous for congress to be expected to make important decisions in this manner.  Congress essentially lacked the time even to read the 11,000 pages of ever-changing material, much less to understand the unrelated topics that were tacked on to it at the last minute.  Even in the unlikely event that a member of congress could read the material, the range of the collective subject matter was so wide as to make it impossible to vote responsibly.  At the state level, many states have already recognized the difficulties posed by piggybacking on the conducting of legislative business.  These states have a“single subject rule” in their constitution making it illegal for their congresses to vote on multi-subject legislation.  The subject of the legislation must be something that can be expressed in the title of the bill, and only legislation related to that subject is voted on.  It is time for the federal government to immediately end the irresponsible practices of earmarking and piggybacking!

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