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There's more to the story about legislation being "introduced"

Posted: April 29, 2012 - 12:04am

A recent story on WRDW-TV 12 discussed “sweeping” legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. According to Duncan, this legislation would make the United States energy independent. How many times have we heard that line?

In the past 23 years, from 1989-2011, there have been 650 bills that contained the phrase “energy independence,” and 1,346 others that contained both of the words “energy” and “independence.” With all of that legislation addressing energy independence, we still don’t have it, even though for more than half of those 23 years we had two presidents and one vice president who came to us from the domestic oil industry.

Legislation is introduced regularly in both the House and the Senate for many hot-button issues such as energy independence. Those who introduce that legislation know that there is a slim-to-none chance that their bills will ever make it out of committee, much less ever be debated, voted on or passed. Duncan knows that, but during the upcoming campaign he can say: “I introduced legislation that will make our country energy independent.” Neither he, nor the other candidates running for re-election, will ever tell us that their legislation was not viable and never made it out of committee.

Another favorite piece of legislation, generally introduced by freshmen lawmakers, is that calling for a Constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget. In the same 23 years, that legislation has been introduced 133 times.

It is hard to believe that our elected federal lawmakers would engage in such deceptive behavior, but one only has to look at the numbers. Between 1989 and 2011, there were 110,105 bills and joint resolutions introduced in Congress.

Of those 110,105 bills and joint resolutions, only 11,258 (10.22 percent) were passed in the house where they originated, and only 5,772 (5.24 percent) were passed in both houses. To put it another way, only one in every 10 bills introduced in the U.S. Congress is passed in the house in which it was introduced, and only a one in 20 is ever passed by both houses.

As each of you hear candidates brag about legislation they have introduced, be sure to perform the proper due diligence before you judge them based on their boasts. You want to know things like if the legislation ever made it out of committee, how many other pieces of legislation the candidate introduced since the last election, and what the dispositions were. If you can, find out who authored the legislation, which is often written by others, including industry groups or their lobbyists, and given by the party leader to someone like Duncan to introduce.

Twenty others can boast about Duncan’s energy legislation by stating they are cosponsors. And Duncan can pick and choose from 315 measures introduced into the House and boast that he cosponsored “this bill” or that he cosponsored “that joint resolution.” He is probably covered for just about any circumstance he might encounter in the campaign.

What he won’t tell potential voters though is that none of the five bills he introduced have made it out of committee, and only five, 1.75 percent, of the 286 bills and joint resolutions he co-sponsored ever made it through both houses of Congress. Remember, over the last 23 years, 5.24 percent of bills and joint resolutions introduced passed both houses. And concerning the lack of movement of the measures he has sponsored and cosponsored, he can’t blame partisan politics as he belongs to the controlling majority party.

Remember the old proverb: “Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see,” and keep in mind the words written by James Madison in Federalist 37: “….the pestilential influence of party animosities, the disease most incident to deliberative bodies, and most apt to contaminate their proceedings.”

You can check out all of the facts and figures for yourself.

At http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php, one can search the Library of Congress database of legislation by keywords or phrases across multiple Congresses back to the 101st, which convened Jan. 3, 1989. Searching legislation using other criteria also is available as far back as the 93rd Congress.

The legislative data was found at www.senate.gov in the “Résumé of Congressional Activity.” It is available for each Congress back to the 80th, which began on Jan. 3, 1947.

If you want to follow up on the legislation that inspired this post, it is H.R. 4301: Energy Exploration and Production to Achieve National Demand Act, introduced March 29, 2012.

Happy fact-finding, everyone!

(Ted Hood Jr., a Harlem resident, is author of the Shattered Symbols blog at shatteredsymbols.blog.com.)

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