How Passing a Bill Might Leave a Wet Spot on the Carpet
By Ernest Dogsbody
It doesn’t matter where they come from. Be they Coastal or Heartlander, once they arrive in Washington, D.C., and are sworn into Congress, they all convert (or revert) to large-scale Coastal group-think. And that doesn’t translate into unity. Far from it… They morph into the dysfunctional mess that is Congress today.
Congress is seemingly without the ability to agree on anything. So why does the legislative and regulatory assault on average citizens and businesses continue to escalate? You would think that ideological paralysis would allow Heartlanders to merrily go about their business in peace. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality we live in. With apologies to “Schoolhouse Rock,” let’s take an extemporaneous look at how a bill REALLY becomes a law today.
The source of our current debacle is gerrymandering. Congressional districts continue to be carved up to suit the needs of the prevailing party in each state, making some congressional district maps look more like a political Rorschach test than anything a normal person would consider reasonable. These districts are designed to create “safe” seats for both parties while ensuring that the party in power maximizes the number of districts it controls. This practice has all but eliminated any swing districts that would produce moderate members of Congress. Now, the actual elections occur in the primaries. Pandering to their bases, candidates campaign to the extremes. Those in Democratic districts try to out-flank each other to the left to endear themselves to progressive voters, while those in Republican districts do the same to the right to energize the (pick one): religious groups, gun owners, disenfranchised factory workers, etc.
What winds up coming to Washington is a Congress of extremist true believers resembling Dr. Seuss’ Prairie of Prax where the North-Going Zax and South Going Zax stand toe to toe and face to face and never – but NEVER – take a step to one side. This is the cause of the partisan rancor and breakdown of the “regular order” in Congress.
Fearing a divisive floor fight, the “Kittens are Cute Too” amendment was labeled a “poison-pill” and deemed out of order by the Rules Committee.
And so, the congressional cycle progresses with our elected representatives collectively throwing their toys out of their prams in well-orchestrated self-righteous temper tantrums. Until one day in the second session of the cycle, there is a collective realization that they’re all up for re-election soon, and they have no accomplishments on which to campaign. The search begins for some feel-good legislation on which everyone can agree and on which members from either party can put their own political spin back home. This is the genesis of the national “Puppies Are Cute Act,” also known as PACA because everything in D.C. needs an acronym. It should be noted that, while passing with a huge bipartisan majority, PACA almost failed due to a last-minute amendment to expand the law to kittens. Fearing a divisive floor fight, the “Kittens Are Cute Too” amendment was labeled a “poison-pill” and deemed out of order by the Rules Committee.
With his newly adopted Labrador retriever puppy (hand-selected by members of his campaign team) on his lap, the president signs PACA into law to the cheers of the attending Rose Garden crowd (also hand-selected by members of his campaign team). He proclaims that cute puppies are an essential part of the American way of life, and that cute puppy ownership will be the best thing to happen to our GDP since the “New Deal.”
To get to this point, however, the law was written with intentional vagueness so as not to offend any special interests. Now the dirty details need to be figured out by the regulators.
To get to this point, however, the law was written with intentional vagueness so as not to offend any special interests. Now the dirty details need to be figured out by the regulators. Un-elected bureaucrats must now decide what “cute” is (regulators aren’t good with subjectivity) and what constitutes a “puppy” (should be fairly objective, but – what with possible PETA accusations of “canine ageism” – you never know). Strict guidelines are laid out for eyeball-to-head and paw-to-body size ratios that must be achieved to certify puppy cuteness. Due to pressure from AARP (which was concerned about the discriminatory term “young pup” being associated with societal worth), no specific age limit was imposed on the definition of a puppy. The cat lobby was once again thwarted in its effort to define puppy as a “canine OR feline.”
Once “cute puppies” have been defined, it is time for the societal engineers to go to work to force Americans to acquire these pets (whether they want them or not) “for their own good!” Tax incentives are created to encourage cute puppy ownership, and puppy-chow food stamps are issued to any family with an income below, at, or substantially over the poverty line. It should be noted that no work requirement was placed on this benefit, as it was argued that it is cheaper to stay home and walk your own puppy than to hire a dog-walker while you are at work. Sick-puppy leave is mandated while the debate over federally funded doggy day care rages on.
Since there is now money and social engineering involved, enforcement and fines for violations are established. By intentional omission, PACA placed no limits on private rights of action. Smelling blood/money in the water, a cottage industry of class-action lawyers begins issuing demand letters to upper-class/deep-pocketed puppy-owners, citing the “lack of cuteness of your puppy” and threatening a lengthy and expensive court case. To avoid the legal mess, however, the lawyers will be willing to accept a payoff (they call it a “settlement”) of $1,000 – or about a quarter of the cost to legally defend the aesthetic value of your little best friend. Most defendants settle.
As the national love affair with cute puppies continues to grow, more and more resources are poured into the care and well-being of our cherished balls of fur. This does not go unnoticed by our neighbor to the south. The lure of a better way of life is too much, and hundreds of thousands of Chihuahuas begin flooding over the border. Their cuteness being undeniable, they are welcomed with open arms. This puts an enormous strain on the existing puppy-care infrastructure. Rescue organizations and foster homes are overrun. American Staffordshire terriers (aka pit bulls), which are not a recognized “cute breed,” are systematically euthanized to make room in the “no-kill” shelters to pamper the little Mexican darlings.
More regulations are now necessary, as the EPA identifies puppy poop as a new and growing source of contamination in violation of Waters of the United States Act (WOTUS). The plastic bag lobby wins a major victory by convincing Congress to require puppy owners to purchase an average of two poopy bags per day for each pet owned. (Meanwhile, the cat lobby finally gets a win by successfully arguing that kittens should be exempt due to litter boxes.)
Suddenly, the State Department notices a huge uptick in visa requests from Americans desperate to visit Cuba. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) investigates the cause. Two years later, the original hypothesis of a growing American interest in rusty antique cars is shot down by the research results. The CRS determines that the national dog of Cuba, the Havanese (similar to a Chihuahua, except it’s a “proletarian worker dog”), is in fact the cutest pup in the world, and Americans can’t find enough of them in the States. The Department of Commerce immediately recommends a tariff on Cuban-born puppies and the agriculture appropriators in Congress secure an enormous taxpayer-funded grant to develop the domestic Havanese breeding industry.
PACA is not real. (At least so far as I know.) But there are plenty of similar stories brewing in the minds of your elected officials. A noble idea such as requiring caloric information on restaurant menus to fight the “obesity epidemic” sounds reasonable. And that is why it was included in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) without debate and went into effect this spring. What was not anticipated was that it would regulate a supermarket the same way it does a fast food restaurant, allow for frivolous lawsuits, require pizza chains to post… on a menu board… every possible combination of pizza (Domino’s estimates over 34 million variations), and potentially make a kid who puts too much cheese on an order of nachos a felon.
Yes, Congress may be a cesspool in which a perpetual game of puppy poo-slinging rages, but be aware – it has strong arms, and no matter where in the country you try to hide, it is inevitable that your life will be soiled by the crap it throws around.
“Ernest Dogsbody” has been, for the past 25 years, a registered lobbyist for… um… The Burlap Catnip Mouse Manufacturers of America.