I got riled up last week by a post on social media. Maybe you saw it; it was widely circulated and warned you not to be “sidetracked by the ‘Russian spy drama.’” It listed 11 disastrous bills introduced in the House of Representatives that would, among other things, criminalize abortion, “mobilize” the federal government against sanctuary cities, terminate the Department of Education and so on, and urged you to call your member of Congress to object to these terrible ideas.
It irked me, but not for the reasons you would think.
First, the “Russian spy drama” isn’t a distraction; it’s the biggest story there is. If President Donald Trump and his people coordinated with the Russians to manipulate the election, it means the election was illegitimate and he will be impeached for it and possibly convicted of treason. Keeping the pressure on Congress to investigate thoroughly is the most important work we can be doing right now.
Second, the bills that were listed were not serious threats. It’s true that many of these ideas are on Trump’s outrageous agenda, but it doesn’t mean these bills have a chance of becoming law. Calling your representative about them would be a waste of your time and theirs.
Members of Congress can propose any kind of bill they want, regardless of how ridiculous or strange. To introduce legislation, they don’t need consent from anyone else, and the bills don’t even need to be worded in a particular way. “Introducing” a bill just means dropping an idea in a box. Congressional staff then assigns it a number and a committee. But the vast majority of these bills don’t see the light of day.
I’m sure you remember, in 2013, when Congressman Rob Woodall, R-Ga., introduced H.R. 25 to repeal the federal income tax and abolish the Internal Revenue Service? Yeah, me neither.
How about when Congressman Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., introduced H.J.Res. 15, which would have repealed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, thereby allowing then-President Barack Obama to serve more than two terms? Nope. (I know. We wish.)
According to the Sunlight Foundation, only about 4 percent of all bills that are introduced become law. Remember “I’m Just a Bill” from the show “Schoolhouse Rock!” — the adorable video taught us that getting a bill passed can be a long and arduous road? Once a bill is introduced, it has to navigate its way through various committees, and the author has to push it to be placed on the agenda or it will die without being heard. If it gets voted up by committee, it still needs to be approved by both full bodies of the House and the Senate and possibly reconciled if the Senate and House versions were different. Then, it goes to the President’s desk for signature or veto. The author has to really want a bill to be passed to usher it through this process.
So why do pointless bills get introduced at all? To appease a certain constituency in the author’s district, to fulfill a campaign promise or to take a radical stance to make a more moderate bill look reasonable … Yeah, gross.
So rather than calling your member of Congress about every single horrendous bill that gets introduced, I suggest you check a few things first:
1. Does the legislation seem too outrageous to be true? Then it probably is. (Although in these wacky political times, I know that this might be hard to gauge.)
2. Does the bill have any co-sponsors? If the author is the only person who wants their name attached to this idea, it’s not likely to get enough support to become law. However, if the bill has several powerful co-sponsors (committee chairs, party leaders), it starts to look like it has legs.
3. Where did you hear about it? If you are being urged to call Congress about a bill by Daily Action or 5Calls, then you can trust that it is the real deal. If you read about it on Facebook, and the legislation isn’t being covered by any reputable news source, then it probably isn’t considered viable by the people who follow Congress closely. Google it and see what comes up.
4. How far is it in the process? Check a bill’s status by going to Congress.gov, where you can see whether it has been assigned to committee, if it has been amended, who the co-sponsors are and whether it has been put to a vote. If a bill has a hearing scheduled, then it’s time to get engaged and call your Senator.
Now, go call your member of Congress about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Don’t get sidetracked by all these frivolous bills.
Alix Rosenthal is a municipal attorney, nasty woman and progressive activist who mentors and trains women to run for political office. She can be found on Twitter at @alixro and her blog is at www.votealix.com.