by Emilio Jaksetic
On August 1, 2021, a bipartisan group of senators, including Senator Mark Warner, D-Va, issued a brief: “Senators’ Statement on the Finalized Bipartisan Infrastructure Agreement Legislative Text.” The statement contains a hypertext link to a draft bill that is 2,702 pages long.
As a matter of common sense, it is not plausible to believe that Warner has been able to read and understand all 2,702 pages. And it is improbable that Warner could give Virginians a reasonable and understandable explanation of the meaning, implications, and consequences of the mind-numbing multitude of provisions in the legislative monstrosity.
Warner has abandoned his responsibility as a Senator to represent Virginians in a reasonable manner. Instead, he has embraced the role of an arrogant, inside wheeler-dealer who (1) relies on secret negotiations by small, self-selected groups of senators, and (2) seeks to get legislation advanced without hearings, without a meaningful opportunity for public comment, and without reasonable legislative deliberation. Instead of being proud, Warner should be ashamed of himself.
Trying to cope with dysfunctional Congressional practices does not justify inflicting legislative flim-flam on the American people. The 2702-page infrastructure bill is not a solution to the current dysfunction on Capitol Hill. It is a stark symptom of the institutional rot that has infected Congress and corrupted the legislative process.
The bill makes is a mockery of representative democracy. Elected representatives are no more than rubber stamps for political deals made by a handful of officials negotiating without any meaningful legislative deliberation. And, it encourages the cynical and manipulative use of “comprehensive” or “emergency” legislation to obscure and camouflage policies, practices, and public expenditures that would be unlikely to be enacted into law or accepted by the American people if considered on their own merits.
Such legislative practices contrary to the basic principles of representative democracy. There is no excuse for giving our elected representatives and the American people “the bum’s rush” instead of a meaningful opportunity to know what exactly is contained in proposed legislation.
“Hurry up, hurry up, don’t read the document, just trust me and sign it” may be expected of a confidence man, a huckster, or a shady business person; it is not appropriate for our elected representatives. No problem, however urgent, justifies passage of proposed legislation without any meaningful opportunity for Americans and their elected representatives to know, think about, and understand what is being proposed.
Virginians should demand their Congressional representatives refuse to vote for legislative proposals unless they have a meaningful opportunity to read, understand, think about such proposals, and engage in meaningful consultation with their constituents before voting on the proposals. Virginians should demand that their Congressional representatives refuse to quietly acquiesce in sham legislative deliberation, and show that they are able to carry out the duties and responsibilities for which they were elected.
In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln stated “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Warner has turned his back on the idea of government of the people, by the people, for the people. Warner has embraced government of the politicians, by the politicians, for the politicians — without any decent respect or regard for the right of the American people to have meaningful representative government.
Warner should take no pride in his role in the infrastructure negotiations. Warner should be ashamed of exacerbating the legislative rot on Capitol Hill. Warner should be ashamed of his wheeling and dealing and participation in legislative flim-flam. Virginians deserve better.
Emilio Jaksetic is a retired attorney living in Northern Virginia.