A post at Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog this morning brings up an ongoing concern of mine:

Consider a negotiation in which both sides agreed on extending the payroll tax cut: Republicans would propose extending it for a year, every Democrat in the House and Senate would vote “aye,” and President Obama would sign the legislation into law before the week is out. But that’s not the negotiation we’re having.

Rather, Democrats and Republicans are arguing over the price Democrats are willing to pay and Republicans are willing to accept in order to extend the payroll tax cut for a full year. Republicans want, among other things, the Keystone XL Pipeline and further cuts to discretionary spending. Neither of those things, you’ll notice, is “a payroll tax cut.” Democrats oppose resolving big environmental questions through a rider to a must-pass tax bill, and they’re against some of the cuts Republicans are proposing. Neither of those concerns, you’ll notice, are concerns about a payroll tax cut.

via The ‘payroll tax cut’ debate is not about the payroll tax cut – The Washington Post.

It seems like business as usual in the Congress is to attach all kinds of unrelated issues to bills in order to get them passed more quickly – a piece of legislation about health care will have amendments which related to energy use, or a bill focused on military spending will also include something about national park funding.  I’m making those examples up off the top of my head, but you get the idea.  My understanding is that this has been done in the past to move legislation through more efficiently – less floor time debating, voting, whatever.

But in our current Congress, such attachments seem to have more to do with negotiating, and not always in good faith.  The latest example – payroll tax cuts, which everyone seems to think are a good thing to extend, being tied to the Keystone pipeline – seems to have more in common with holding folks hostage in exchange for something the other party doesn’t really want to give up, and less to do with efficiency.

Does this really make sense?

I’ve often wondered – other than the efficiency angle – why in the world proposed bills are allowed to include unrelated concerns.  If you have legislation about health care, for example, should all the stuff attached to it have something to do with health care? If the bill is focused on taxes, why in the world would it include items about energy use, or abortion, or even benign topics like the naming of post offices or commemorating events? I have often thought legislation should be more cohesive, but the latest antics of the Republicans in Congress make me think it should actually be required that a bill’s components all be related to one concern. Where it might have once been a courtesy to include unrelated topics in a bill to move things forward, now it has become a hostage negotiation.

As Steve Benen and others often say, This is why we can’t have nice things.