Bills that bring a little levity -- and a pointed message -- to Capitol Hill
Washington — Are you tired of hearing about the weighty topics Congress wrestles with - budgets, taxes, jobs bills, missile systems? Do you believe that most Capitol Hill issues, while terribly important, are more boring than a roomful of bank statements?
Then consider HR 1452, known familiarly as ''The Former Presidential Enough is Enough and Taxpayers Relief Act of 1983.'' Look at HR 1454 - a bill that would limit members of Congress to $100 worth of stamps a year. Consider H Con Res 59, a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit the White House from being redecorated more than once every 12 years.
All this legislation was dreamed up by one man, Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr., a Democrat from Indiana. Though chairman of a very important House subcommittee, Mr. Jacobs is renowned for wit and for occasionally introducing bills that, well , border on the quixotic.
''Andy,'' a House colleague says guardedly, ''is a very, very creative legislator.''
Take ''The Former Presidential Enough is Enough'' act. Under the bill, ex-presidents' expense accounts would be limited to 10 times the official poverty level for an urban family of four. (Secret Service protection would be exempted from the cap.)
Former presidents are highly marketable commodities after they've left office. They command large sums from publishers and lecture agents - compensation enough for their service to the country, says Jacobs.
''With all due disrespect, you know what they're getting now for a lecture?'' he says. ''An ex-president on the hoof commands the price of a new Cadillac.''
Jacobs estimates his bill would cut government subsidies for former occupants of the Oval Office from the current $400,000 per ex-president to about $70,000 each. The emphasis here is on ''would,'' since the bill's chance of passage runs the gamut from slim to none. After all, it never came to a vote any of the other years it was introduced. Exactly how many years has that been? ''Quite a few,'' says Jacobs vaguely.
In fact, many of Jacobs' favorite bills keep appearing, year after year. They're just updated and thrown back into the hopper. This year, along with the stamp restriction for members of Congress and the White House redecoration act, Jacobs is again sponsoring a bill that would prohibit members of Congress from earning outside income. Another would limit the years representatives, senators, and federal judges can spend in office.
Other Jacobs bills would:
* Make first-class air fare a nondeductible business expense.
* Honor Muhammad Sedik Benyahia, an Algerian diplomat who helped free the US hostages in Iran.
* Require that $50 bills carry the picture of Georgia Neese Clark Gray, first female treasurer of the United States.
* Prohibit ''payments of retirement benefits to those who are not retired.''
As chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, Jacobs deals with hospital cost containment, medicare's financial soundness, and other health care issues. His subcommittee, for instance, helped shape the reforms in medicare hospital reimbursement that are part of the social security bill now pending before Congress.
His more quixotic legislative efforts, says Jacobs, are ''symbols'' of his commitment to balanced budgets and congressional reform. He insists they are not grandstanding, as critics claim. Jacobs, concludes the ''Almanac of American Politics,'' approaches Capitol Hill ''with an attitude that is less than stern.''
''Who knows what I'll do next?'' says the congressman, gleefully.