When asked whether there had been a slowdown of bills coming from his chamber, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp replied that the Senate has not been returning bills it receives.
“Well, there certainly are not that many items coming from the Senate, but there are some very important items that could come from the Senate in the next few weeks that I’m looking forward to,” the Michigan Republican said. “I hope the [trade] bill comes back with TAA attached to it. That would be a significant step forward.”
But not every lawmaker sees Reid’s shallow pool of revenue bills as detrimental to the legislative process. Rep. Scott Garrett, chairman of the Constitutional Caucus, said in an interview that the process of “shelling” bills is unfaithful to the Constitution.
“The framers intended that all revenue bills start in the House and not in the Senate. That was a protecting of the interests of the respective states to do that. We have subverted the system,” the New Jersey Republican said. “Theoretically, they could ... take the Obamacare bill, right, and strip everything out. Technically, they could do it and they don’t do it for their messaging reasons, but in reality, they should not be allowed to be doing any of those things. Neither party should be using those mechanisms because it subverts the Constitution.”
The other side of using shell measures is that bills that otherwise might have become law end up gutted. This year, four bills have been used as shells for other measures: A small-business bill was used to extend the USA PATRIOT Act in May, and three measures were used to raise the debt ceiling.
The most notable of these was the Faster FOIA Act, a bill that would have improved the Freedom of Information Act process and increased public access to government documents. When Congress used the bill, versions of which passed both chambers and were awaiting reconciliation, Rep. Brad Sherman released a statement criticizing the move.
“It is a shame that the Speaker has decided to replace a piece of bipartisan legislation with the partisan, ill-conceived Budget Control Act,” the California Democrat said in late July. “Taxpayers should have the opportunity to quickly and easily obtain information from the federal government. ... The Faster FOIA Act should not be used as a pawn in the debt limit debate.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.