Washington Insider
Politics is a messy business

By Rod Nofziger
OOIDA director of government affairs


And that includes the process by which a bill becomes law.

Almost everyone agrees that the legislative process on Capitol Hill is in need of some big-time reforms. However, with both major political parties positioning themselves for the 2012 presidential elections and the likelihood of plenty of stalemates during the next Congressional session, we probably should not hold our collective breath waiting for those reforms to come about anytime soon.

So, while we should all continue to work toward improving the process by which a bill becomes law, we still have to deal with the current realities as we push Congress to pass legislation that will benefit truckers.

One of those realities is that there is a whole lot more to the legislative process than what we learned back in school or from a Saturday morning “Schoolhouse Rock” episode.

Getting a bill successfully introduced, through all of the hoops, and signed into law is an incredibly complex and lengthy process. It doesn’t seem to matter how honorable and praiseworthy the legislation is or how much support it has from the public or from lawmakers.

Numerous factors can stand in the way of bills moving through the legislative process. Examples are budgetary constraints, competing governmental/political priorities, limited Congressional time and resources, etc. Also, almost all legislation that gets introduced has people or groups who will say that the legislation is dangerous or unnecessary. Even if those claims have no merit, it’s still more clutter that bogs down the process.

To give you an idea of how daunting the process is, out of the roughly 11,000 pieces of legislation introduced during the 110th Congressional session (2007-2008), only 442 actually became law – roughly a mere 4 percent. And more than half of those that made it through the process were bills that simply named federal government buildings like post offices and courthouses. Final numbers for the 111th Congress (2009-2010) are not yet in, but the ratio for bills introduced versus those enacted will end up about the same.

In addition to fighting against bills that will harm small-business truckers and professional drivers, OOIDA will push hard for lawmakers in the 112th Congress to address issues like the shortage of safe and secure truck parking, excessive detention time, bad brokers and deteriorating highways. We know that success in the legislative process requires dedicating a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources. It also means taking advantage of the openings and opportunities that present themselves from time to time.

Unfortunately, opportunities to actually move bills forward in the process can be few and far between. With only a small number of bills likely to become law, quite often the best way to get legislation passed is by tacking it onto larger bills that Congress has placed a high priority on enacting.

That strategy is not without pitfalls. Even getting an amendment added onto a piece of legislation can take a Herculean effort and quite a bit of luck. Also, the larger bills that might serve as a vehicle to get your legislation passed may have other provisions in them that you are not too crazy about. That puts you in a position of weighing how much you want to get your legislation passed against the potential downsides of the bill to which it would be hitching a ride.

The legislative process on Capitol Hill is indeed unwieldy, perplexing and messy.

But don’t let that intimidate you or discourage you from being active in the process. The more knowledgeable and engaged in the process you are, the stronger the likelihood that together we can get beneficial legislation enacted into law and maybe even help shape the process along the way. LL