Results tagged “government shutdown” from PlanetGreen.org

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way Through Title 42

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Title 42.jpgThis week, on President Trump's precise hundredth day in office, the federal government is (yet again) set to go broke unless an appropriations bill can be approved. The main conflicts preventing a funding compromise are the White House's insistence that federal subsidizing of sanctuary cities come to an end, the Democrats' refusal to block bailouts to the insurance industry written into the text of the Affordable Care Act, and the attempts to reconcile the President's $30 billion defense spending request with the mounting national debt. However, while the debate over these controversies continues in Congress, a much larger question is also implicated - how much should the United States of America actually cost?


The issue shouldn't actually be that complex. We don't need to analyze Gross National Product and skyrocketing income disparity and our current trade balance: one look at the United States Code should be enough to convince anyone that some serious spring cleaning is in order.


The U.S.C., which contains almost all federal Congressional enactments, is currently 5,759 Constitutions, 74,870 pages and fifty-two titles long. The first of these is deceptively straightforward, at twenty-seven pages which mostly define words used throughout the Code. This one is the place to go if you've ever wondered what the phrase "products of American fisheries" or the word "person" means (respectively. Seafood comes at §6, and humans will just have to wait until §8). The shortest of these is Title 9, which covers Arbitration in eleven pages and is probably one of the briefest documents pertaining to arbitration ever published (say what you will about mandatory ADR, but you've got to love any statute more straightforward and concise than the subject with which it deals). The longest, by far, is #42, which comes in at 13,385 pages and contains some things worthwhile, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And some things of more questionable merit, to say the least, like §12705c., "Grants for Regulatory Barrier Removal Strategies and Implementation." You read that right - they've apparently taken to spending money on plans to regulate overregulation1. Making matters worse, this behemoth comes with no index, just a four-page list of its one hundred and fifty-nine chapters.


Personally, I don't trust anything with a table of contents that long2. Even the overview is a little staggering - it does tell you where to find the things you might expect, like Social Security and the Clean Air Act, but it also contains chapters with intriguingly irrelevant laws defining the mathematical term "average" (42 U.S.C. §2992c) and providing for space exploration (somehow, Congress thought this item fit better here than in Title 51, which is devoted exclusively to outer space). When there are this many individual ideas and policies thrown pell-mell into one document, it's inevitable that some will be forgotten about and enforcement will be a complete nightmare.


Don't believe me? Well, let's hunt up something everyone knows about, that should be fairly easily accessible. You might suppose that Obamacare, for example, would be a frequently referenced and therefore clearly marked section. Half of it is indeed filed under the identifiable if somewhat specious heading "Quality, Affordable Health Care for All Americans" - that is, the second half. The notorious Act actually begins at 42 U.S.C. §300gg 3, which I assure you is an actual component of Title 42 and not just a random letter-number combination generated by a hyperactive squirrel scampering across my keyboard. 42 U.S.C. §300 is eight hundred and thirteen pages long, and deals mostly with health services and partly with drinking water4. However, just when it starts resembling a cohesive, orderly piece of legislation, it disappears like a subterranean river under mountains of vitally important documents such as those defining the word "governor" or dedicated to "Soil Information Assistance for Community Planning and Resource Development," then magically reappears at §18011, where it finally gets a proper label. If you do manage to get Congress' copy - which, despite its manifold faults, can at least be perused in one piece - the entire title really can to seem like a jigsaw puzzle someone put together wrong.


Also complicating matters is the sheer number of laws dealing with precisely the same problems under slightly different headings, and funded out of completely different sections of this country's coffers. There are chapters 25 and 50, "Federal Flood Insurance" and "National Flood Insurance," respectively (admittedly, the former has been all but repealed - all but the part that costs money, which is still going strong and still has up to five hundred million dollars at its disposal). There are chapters 98 and 99, "Ocean Energy Thermal Conversion Research and Development" and its successor "Ocean Energy Thermal Conversion," both of which deal with precisely the same subject, except one of them covers its territory in nine fairly straightforward sections while the other verbosely provides desperately needed clarification on the subject through such enlightening enactments as yet another definition of "governor" (over the course of the Title, we are educated as to the meaning of this word a grand total of eleven times). And then, of course, there are "Intergovernmental Personnel Program," the closely related "Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations," and "Intergovernmental Cooperation" - these are much more difficult to ascertain the merits of, however. On the one hand, the most cursory examination of the Code reveals the redundancy of a significant number of statutes, and it seems impossible to believe that this many federally funded programs could possibly be simultaneously necessary. On the other, though, the most cursory examination of the Code reveals that Congress barely keeps tabs on the laws it passes itself, and probably needs all the intergovernmental cooperation it can get.


I'll admit, this confusion can partially be attributed to the fact that half the contents of Title 42 have nothing to do with its stated purpose. There are things such as "School Lunch Programs" and some scholarship opportunities that should probably be located in Title 20, "Education;" there are "Criminal Justice Identification, Information and Communication" guidelines, "Community Safety Recidivism Protection," and legislation pertaining to just about every crime in the calendar5, which might be more appropriately moved to Title 18, the federal criminal code - and all this gives one the strange sense that this title would be more appropriately captioned "Congress' Grand Article I, Section 8 Grab Bag" than "Public Health and Welfare," like it is now. But the problems with the United States Code are too significant to be solved by mere rearranging or streamlining. Every line in our law that is not absolutely essential to the fulfillment of federal Constitutional obligations could be costing taxpayers, and diverting scarce funds that could otherwise be allocated to necessary and productive programs.


1 Before long, we'll hear of the establishment of the Overregulation Elimination Agency, vested with the power to enforce their conclusions through appropriate rule-making, and when we do it will doubtless be located in Title 42. You heard it here first.


2 Neither does Adobe Reader, apparently, which took a brave stand against governmental overreach by "Not Responding" every time I tried to locate any particular thing inside this Brobdingnagian document. So I tried to see what methods the government itself had come up with to speed the research process along a little, but apparently they've got problems of their own:


USCtimeout.jpg


3 Don't believe everything you hear on the news: this right here is the real reason why Congress didn't repeal the "Affordable" Care Act when it got the chance. Once you've managed to find a place for the darned thing and fit it snugly into what has to be the most complicated single law ever promulgated, who would have the heart to take it out again and re-number everything that comes after it?


4 Even though it deals with some of the same subject matter, it is definitely not to be confused with "Water Resources Planning," "Water Resources Research," "Secure Water," or Title 33, which deals mainly with "Navigable Waterways." I wasn't actually even looking for our nation's policy on H2O, but suddenly I'm drowning in a veritable sea of surplusage - I suppose next time I need something from the Code, I'll just wait until the clouds roll back and the waters part.


5 This expression is truly quite baffling, if you think about it too hard. I mean, we've all seen planners adorned with pictures of tropical beaches or flower-themed date books, but have you ever encountered a fifty-two week Gregorian crime calendar? I didn't think so.


Putting the GOP on Cruz Control

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cruzlemming.jpgSpending two weeks without national parks, or any sort of government for that matter, tends to make you think. Here are some of my musings on the subject:

Night of a fateful September 31st. Crickets chirping. I am tucking my quilts around me, and my mother stands in the lighted doorway.

"Goodnight," she says.

"Goodnight, Mom," I reply. "Goodnight, Mikaela." And then, as an afterthought, I add: "Goodnight, government."

You really don't know what you've got till it's gone, I guess. It certainly took Uncle Sam to call in sick before I realized just how much I didn't know about our democracy. (Yep, this has been a useful "Know Your Government" lesson - and an impromptu dramatization of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall.")

For starters, this has awakened my interest in our case law. Who knew that anarchy is a "substantive evil that Congress has the right to prevent practice?" (Congressionally authorized alteration to 249 US at 47 (1919)) Or that the maintenance of our government's account books is not a "business affected with the public interest" that Supreme Court Justice Devanter wrote of preserving?

My ignorance is truly astounding.

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On a more learned note, if I had been called upon to provide a means of negotiation between the two parties, I would have locked the congresspeople into the Capitol and not let them out until they'd reopened our government. Of course, this weasel-in-a-barrel situation would have led to countless personal exigencies for our "public servants," such as missing the premiere of American Idol, carefully rationing the remaining half of a life-sustaining Twix bar, or asking a bombastically rightist colleague in a hushed whisper: "Hey Rep, whoodya think is going to win the Super Bowl?"

Oh, and I can just see Senator McCain running out of cell phone charge while beguiling the weary hours with another internet poker game. What a pity too - he'd just gotten a full House!

And then, as one by one they snuck off to the bathroom, ruefully searched a greasy brown paper lunch bag for remaining crumbs, cast about the Neoclassical chamber for an electric outlet, or finally got bored of playing all-nighter sleepover games, they would begin to wonder whose brainwave this whole thing was.

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And so finally, after these two harrowing weeks, the Republicans gave in, locked themselves into the cellar, and waved their white flag. I guess they finally realized they were Cruz-ing for a bruising. Now that they've shushed Ted Texan up, they're sitting around singing a mournful rendition of "The Conquered Banner" and assuring themselves of their uncompromised integrity, all while surreptitiously whispering to their comrades: "You better hurry it up quick, or else we're all gonna miss tomorrow night's game!"

And that would surely be an unprecedented emergency to our national welfare.

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So it's over at last - and I learned a lot: 1) the Tea Party really is presided over by Mad Hatters, and 2) as political adviser Tommy Corcoran once sang, "The GOP, it ain't what it used to be."

And now I'll be happy to go take a hike and leave Washington alone.

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