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Please Let The Sun Go Down On Me

You know, you get the most interesting ideas in the oddest places. I once read a sci-fi novel that described the workings of an alien government. Their legislature was tricameral (three houses), and the job of the third House was to simply repeal existing laws. I suspect this was at least partly inspired by the comedy standard of citing obsolete laws that are still on the books in a lot of places (cars cannot go through town without a pedestrian proceding it waving a red flag, no bowling on Sundays, no tying an elephant to a parking meter, etc. etc.), and while I think it's a bit too much, it did get me thinking about another idea.

One of the bigger political issues of the last election and the current one are the so-called Bush tax cuts that were enacted in the early days of his administration. They were passed with a finite life, and they are set to expire soon. The Republican argument is "they were good, and we should keep them;" the Democrats say "let them expire."

(This brings up an interesting point: the Democrats argue that this won't constitute a tax hike, but a simple return to the "natural" level of taxation from the "unnatural" level under the Bush plan. I tend to think that argument is a load of horse crap; if the government takes more of a percentage of my money than in a previous year, that's a hike, no matter what you call it -- a "redefinition" of tax brackets, an "expiration" of a lower percentage, an "adjustment" for inflation, or whatever you call it. But I digress.)

This got me thinking: why not put expiration dates on more laws? In fact, why not put a "sunset provision" on most laws?

Here's how I'd do it: a Constitutional amendment that says all laws passed by Congress will expire in seven years, unless it is passed with a sunset exemption. Such exemptions would require a separate vote, and pass each House with a 75% supermajority. And renewing an existing law would require at least a 60% supermajority. (Feel free to quibble with the specific numbers; I largely picked them out of the air.)

Under this system, most laws would be indeed, temporary, forcing Congress to reconsider them and look at the consequences of their actions on a fairly regular basis. For truly important matters, such as laws governing murder and other major issues, they could put them out of the reach of the sunsetting provisions (meaning it would take a whole new act to amend or repeal them), if they can convince enough of their members to do so.

This would have the added, hidden benefit of giving Congress a whole new job that might just keep them too busy to stick their noses in so many matters that they now obsess over and try to "fix."

(I can see it happening now: "Congressman, we'd like a half an hour of your time to talk about giving my client a hefty tax loophole." "No time, Mr. Lobbyist. If we don't act right now, the income tax rate will default to zero percent next year!")

Here in New Hampshire, we pay our legislators $100 per year for their services. I'm not quite sure if it was the intention, but one of the effects of that is we simply don't have enough "professional" legislators to bring about a truly "professional" legislature -- meaning we are spared the burden of so many states (and the nation as a whole) of lawmakers having the time and interest to "justify" their jobs by writing and passing new laws. I don't think we can make that work on a national level, but the idea is the same -- keep the people we elect too busy to pass a bunch of laws that they can point to and say "see how much work I do for you?"

The libertarians have a favorite quote: "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session." When you combine that with the aphorism that "idle hands are the Devil's playground," it's easy to see what can happen if you don't give Congress enough to do. The federal calendar is stuffed full of days honoring everything under the sun, every state has a long list of official state songs, birds, reptiles, insects, desserts, sandwiches, beverages, nicknames, and whatnot -- it's absurd.

Let's give them something substantial to do. Something to keep them out of trouble, and out of our hair -- unless we really need them to meddle.


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Comments (14)

I once read a sci-fi nov... (Below threshold)
wolfwalker:

I once read a sci-fi novel that described the workings of an alien government. Their legislature was tricameral (three houses), and the job of the third House was to simply repeal existing laws.

Interesting. That's a dead-on description of the governmental system used by the planet Vulcan in Diane Duane's novel Spock's World. I never took you for a Trekker.

I'm unsure about putting a sunset provision on all laws, but I like the idea of sunsetting some laws. There is precedent: the Constitution says that all appropriations bills dealing with the armed forces can last no more than two years. Perhaps only laws dealing with either raising or spending money would have the sunset provision?

The left will never allow s... (Below threshold)
SteveC:

The left will never allow such a thing...they want to control you.

wolfwalker, you nailed it i... (Below threshold)

wolfwalker, you nailed it in one. And if you search the site for Diane Duane's name, you'll see she actually commented here -- when I confused one of her Trek novels with one of Peter David's.

I knew I was lifting from Duane, but I couldn't remember if it was the Vulcan government or the Rihannsu, so I left it a little vague. Now that you remind me, though, yeah, it was from one of the "history" chapters of Spock's World.

Some times I'd like to adopt here at Wizbang K't'lk's debate tactic that she employed against that abstract theorist who opined about the nature of reality...

J.

What a great idea! Too bad ... (Below threshold)
Jim:

What a great idea! Too bad that the only way to implement that idea is to have Jon Paul as Pres, and a whole Congress full of Paul lookalikes. I guess the only place for that idea remains in a book.

BravoNow if we could... (Below threshold)
tyree:

Bravo
Now if we could also implement a system where laws are tried out in four states for four years to see what the unintended consequences are, we would really be making progress.

That whole "two incomes on one mortgage" thing didn't really make home more affordable, did it?

Excellent novel, Spock's Wo... (Below threshold)

Excellent novel, Spock's World.

And an excellent proposal, Jay. I like it even more than term limits.

The mentality in Congress -- regardless of party -- is that once a law becomes law, it's there forever. Nothing is reviewed to see whether it's even doing what it was intended to do. (Pick your example; a full list would take more server space than Wizbang has, I say only in partial jest.)

But such an automatic sunset provision would be a wonderful breath of fresh air in Congress: force them to deal with the consequences of their actions.

Great concept. It might mak... (Below threshold)
Mattnu:

Great concept. It might make matters worse to be honest with you. A lot of bad legislation could get passed as "trial" runs with a 2-10 year sunset clause. I'd ref the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban as an example. It would be easier for a lot of legislators to use the argument that if it has a sunset clause then it's worth trying, no matter how bad the idea is. The justification would be that if it truly sucks, has unseen impacts, it will sunset anyway, so lets try it. Might want to tie expiration/renewal dates to election cycles, that would keep a lot of bad legislation from even being considered.

I like the concept, but I a... (Below threshold)
yetanotherjohn:

I like the concept, but I am not as comfortable with allowing an exception at 75%. I would go with the percentage of votes indicating the number of congresses (aka 2 years) before review. Say less than 55% and the law automatically expires in the middle of the next congress. So laws that a slight change in representatives would have impacted get a review after the next election. Laws that pass overwhelmingly (say over 90%) get to go through a full senate rotation (18 years). They will still have to be reviewed, but we wait a generation. Different percentages would fit between those two limits.

As long as we are talking about congressional change, I have a couple more ideas for you. Don't allow congress to exempt themselves. If social security and medicare is good enough for the unwashed masses, then congress shouldn't have its own retirement and health plan. Further, congress critters should be required to fill out all government forms themself. No staff allowed. Their taxes should be fully audited every year (maybe we can figure out how so many come into congress with so little and leave as multimillionaires). Sanctions for errors in filling out the forms should be severe. If they are writing the law, then let them understand the need for clarity and simplicity.

Congressional salaries and staff should be tied to the budget. Any deficit should incur an immediate reduction in salary and staff. It won't make a direct dollar impact on the budget, but it will probably reduce deficits. Further, no increase in congressional salaries or staff for any congress that raises taxes (by your definition of raising taxes). In short, you don't get a raise by taking more from the American taxpayer.

I believe the concept preda... (Below threshold)
Tim:

I believe the concept predated Diane's usage. I seem to remember it's use in 'The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress', RAHeinlein, during a discussion by a lead character about how to set up a new government.

legislature was tricamer... (Below threshold)
drjohn:

legislature was tricameral (three houses), and the job of the third House was to simply repeal existing laws.

We have that too. We call them "liberal judges."

So, Straight-talk McInsane'... (Below threshold)
Phoenix:

So, Straight-talk McInsane's gas tax holiday will become a Republican gasoline tax increase post Labor Day. Read Granpa's lips!!!!

BTW taxes are the cost of admission for being able to live and participate in a stable and secure society and enjoy the benefits of "The Commons." that permits you to have whatever you choose to pursue, within reason. The fact that you are already here, using the "goodies" of this stable society reflects that you are obligated and that some of the dollars in your pocket are thus committed, like it or not.

If that's too onerous for you and an unfair imposition upon you, try a prolonged stint as a solo castaway where you may keep whatever you manage to scrounge from your society of one.

You know, you get the mo... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

You know, you get the most interesting ideas in the oddest places. I once read a sci-fi novel that described the workings of an alien government. Their legislature was tricameral (three houses), and the job of the third House was to simply repeal existing laws.

So, which Diane Duane novel was it, "Spock's World" or "The Romulan Way?"

Oh, nevermind, should have ... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Oh, nevermind, should have actually read the comments before I posted. lol

Some times I'd like to a... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

Some times I'd like to adopt here at Wizbang K't'lk's debate tactic that she employed against that abstract theorist who opined about the nature of reality...

Har, yes I'm sure if one got bitten in the leg, reality would come into crystal clarity.

K'klk "Showed him...get all Zen with me..."




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