Against Legislative Glitches

Politics

Our expectations for federal legislators have reached an all-time low.

United States Capitol

United States Capitol building is seen in Washington D.C., United States on December 8, 2022. Celal Gunes / Anadolu Agency

The general complaints about President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act are obvious. All signs point to the country heading into a recession, if we are not in one already. The U.S. government has already spent absurd amounts of money in the name of fighting Covid, which has contributed to, if not outright caused, the current inflationary crisis. In this time of economic turmoil, the president has chosen to push through a bill that spends over $300 billion—not to fight inflation, but on what the Environmental Protection Agency hails as “the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.” 

Yes, the legislation was clearly unwise: it smuggles in a green agenda under the guise of fighting inflation, continues to increase the out-of-control federal deficit, etc. These conservative talking points are all correct, fairly obvious, and in need of no further commentary. But as the Biden administration addresses its recent “conversations with our European allies” about the Inflation Reduction Act, it is worth highlighting some additional and slightly less obvious concerns with this legislation in particular and the state of our legislative process in general.

Some foreign allies have accused the Inflation Reduction Act of being “protectionist,” including the president of France, Emmanuel Macron. Macron “complained that subsidies meant to incentivize semiconductor production for electric vehicles have put European leaders at an unfair disadvantage,” according to Fox Business. I have not had the courage to read the text of this massive bill. But if Macron is correct that the IRA actually incentivizes semiconductor production that favors American production over European production, I am glad to hear it.  

I don’t think electric vehicle production should be at the top of America’s spending agenda, but if American tax dollars are being spent to incentivize production of goods, of course those incentives should benefit American manufacturers. The shocking thing about these statements is that we live in a political culture where foreign governments can make such complaints with a straight face. A country worried about recession passes a spending bill that encourages national manufacturing, and other countries complain that the spending helps America more than it helps them? Give me a break.

I think a little protectionism in the face of our dangerously globalized economy is a good thing. But putting aside the wisdom of the particular policy, America has every right, and indeed the duty, to spend its tax dollars to benefit its own economy and its own people. It has no obligation to create a level economic playing field with Europe. In fact, spending tax dollars for such a global purpose would be irresponsible and frankly insane. It is sheer cowardice for our president to be afraid to defend the protection and fostering of our own manufacturing base.

The Biden administration has responded that the IRA may indeed contain some “glitches.”Assuming that the bill does indeed contain “glitches” rather than intentional pro-America features for which we are now apologizing to Europe, we have further problems. On Monday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre acknowledged the concerns “our European allies” have with the Inflation Reduction Act and seemed to hint that we would address them, but added “[w]e don’t have plans to go back to Congress on that.” 

It is quite possible that talk of fixing glitches is just an expression of embarrassment. After all, our liberal, globalist administration worked hard to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, and the president himself is touting it as “the largest investment in climate change in all of history.” Now the administration is getting complaints from Europeans that the new law is protectionist and unfair to the rest of the world, or something like that. Perhaps the Biden administration has no intention of “fixing” anything, and this is just talk until the European grumbling passes. But it is deeply troubling that we have a government culture where the legislature passes a law pushed for by the executive, the executive signs it into law, then the administration looks at the final product, states that it has some glitches, and insinuates that the administration may fix those glitches without Congress. I remember learning about what it’s like to be a bill on Capitol Hill. Once the bill finally makes its journey to becoming a law, the president can’t fix any glitches without Congress.

President Biden’s ramblings on this issue reveal another deep and recurring problem with the current reality in Congress: we have come to accept both massive spending and irresponsibly drafted legislation. Biden is very proud of the Inflation Reduction Act, and explains “there are occasions when you write a massive piece of legislation—and that has almost $368 billion for the largest investment in climate change in all of history—and so there’s obviously going to be glitches in it.” 

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The problems contained in this statement should be obvious, but we have gotten used to them. So let’s stop and consider what is being said. There are about 150 million taxpayers in America, based on income tax returns filed. So, a $368 billion spending bill costs over $2,000 per taxpayer. Each district elects a representative to Congress to represent its needs, and those congressmen are well-paid for the full-time job of writing laws. We send these people to Congress, they manage to spend a staggering sum on “the largest investment in climate change in all of history,” and we are simply supposed to accept that these paid, professional lawmakers are inevitably going to include “glitches” in the laws they write? We have hundreds of lawmakers and thousands of staffers in Congress. They are paid primarily to draft legislation and spend taxpayer money in a responsible manner. We should not accept it as obvious that there will be glitches in our laws. 

The passage and aftermath of the Inflation Reduction Act is a good case study in how ineffective our government leadership has become. We pass a law that dares to contain a provision that benefits American manufacturers, and then take it seriously when Europeans complain the law isn’t fair to them. We spend exorbitant sums of taxpayer money on a supposedly green agenda, and don’t even bother to ensure that the thousands of people working on Capitol Hill have gotten all the glitches out of the bill before voting for it. And then our leaders tell us: “hey, we spent a ton of your money, and we may have gotten some things wrong in the legislation. But it’s for climate change, so stop complaining.” 

We need legislators who take seriously their solemn duty to draft prudent, beneficial legislation, and to spend taxpayer money wisely. We need government leaders who acknowledge that America ought to pass laws that are good for Americans. And we the people need to stop accepting the practice of drafting legislation so long and complicated that even legislators cannot read the whole thing and ensure there are no errors. Yes, laws can be complicated things. But congressmen get elected and paid to do a job. Congress: write bills that explain what is being permitted, what is being outlawed, and what is being spent, so that the people bound by them can understand and obey the law. No more glitches, please.

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