Stealth Legislation

On some excessively hot days in Washington, D.C., wilting pedestrians have been given free rides on city buses. But legislative measures seeking a free ride on spending bills in Congress should be stopped in their tracks.

As a vehicle for members of Congress to turn favorite causes into law, riders are a time-worn tradition on Capitol Hill. The only way to stop riders is for the president to veto bills needed to keep the government humming.

Riders come in various shapes and sizes. Some are highly controversial, such as a pending rider to lift the ban on travel to Cuba. (Or remember the brief government shutdown in 1995 over a spate of environmental riders?)

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As Congress heads into midterm elections, riders have become ever more popular. They serve as tit-for-tat negotiating chips, or as weapons for making political points. Riders also can be a face-saving way for members to publicly vote for a spending bill without having to openly oppose a rider within that bill that their constituents may not support.

But more often than not, riders put special interests above the public good. Moreover, riders usually escape public notice; hence public debate is absent.

Most riders should be barred from the legislative bus. Both House and Senate have rules to do that. The rules should be used more often. Sneaking measures through by hiding them in the recesses of larger bills is no way to create laws for the public good.

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