From passing a state budget to reforming U.S. tax code, politicians increasingly seem to be rushing through important policy measures, cutting the public out of the process.
State lawmakers and members of Congress seldom read every word of the legislation before them. This, for better or worse, is not a new development.
Yet traditionally, the time between introducing a bill and passing it at least ought to let staffers, lobbyists and interested members of the public scour its contents, and potentially sound an alarm.
Increasingly, politicians at the state and federal levels seem to be ignoring this convention, rushing through important policy measures with minimal chance for public scrutiny. The disappointing trend of lightning-quick deal-making shrouded from the public eye was in full force earlier this year when Washington state lawmakers introduced and passed a $43.7 billion state budget over a span of roughly 12 hours.
The practice reared its head again Saturday, when the U.S. Senate approved a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code at about 2 a.m. Eastern time, scribbling last-minute changes in the bill’s margins hours before the vote. Congress now must reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Such disregard for the public process cannot end well.
For one, it increases the likelihood of mistakes or oversights that can have big consequences — like when the Legislature inadvertently cut vital mental-health funding in its rushed budget process this year.
With the U.S. Senate tax plan, the hastiness of the vote appears to have caused senators to accidentally kill popular tax breaks such as those for research and development, causing backlash among some of the very corporations Congress hoped would benefit.
The speed of these decisions sets the stage for even more backroom deals with minimal oversight, allowing feverish political trades to happen outside of public view. It also sidelines thoughtful and competent members of the minority party who could offer significant knowledge and policy expertise if given the opportunity to contribute.
This pattern breeds cynicism among members of the public, while removing them further from their system of governance.
By racing through important bills, government officials throw away their chance to engage with constituents and craft the best possible policies.
In the end, the voters lose.