Higgins: The danger of comprehensiveWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There are two very different definitions for the word “comprehensive” in the dictionary:
- Of a large scope; covering or involving much
- Comprehending mentally; have an mental range or grasp
Like many words in the English language, such definitions can often be confusing. Used by politicians in legislative efforts, however, they can in fact prove to be downright contradictory.
For some reason, those in office seem to prefer the “comprehensive” version when taking up legislation for consideration in the halls of Congress. Ignoring anything but the first definition, they use it both to define their efforts and to argue for their passage. It seems that even after over 200 years of writing laws, there are still a multitude of subjects that have yet to be adequately legislated and many more that may have been either poorly (or perhaps only partially) addressed, requiring not just simple fixes, but wholesale reconsideration. Since each Congress is largely judged in the media by the scope and number of laws which they pass, no politician seems happy unless they can attach their name to some far-reaching effort, which invariably means that there are new laws to write (though usually for re-fighting old battles).
Now since the members of Congress already have far too few days when they are doing the people’s work in D.C., passing “comprehensive” legislation covering a far greater scope of topics seems an ideal way for them to fulfill their obligation between fundraising efforts and fact-finding junkets.
The length of such legislation may not have any relation to its importance, however. The Constitution, for example, ran only some four oversized pages of parchment; the federal budget for 2014 ran some 244 pages. The Senate’s current proposed “comprehensive” immigration legislation however currently tops 1,000 pages. As for Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, while it comes in at a mere 906 pages, the current version of the law in fact tops 33,000 pages if you include the regulations, a stack some seven feet tall.
As you might imagine, printing 435 copies of the Constitution could be performed simply (these days at least) and reviewed expeditiously, though evidence contradicts that any such effort has been made. Larger documents would likely present greater strain on the paper supplies in the Capitol. As for much of the comprehensive legislation, it not only presents a formidable task for the government printing office (not counting the additional copies reprinted for the staff), but would likely decimate a small forest in the process. Less likely would be consideration that any of those 435 members will have the time (or the interest) to read a document of such soul-crushing proportions, whose very design was a failed effort to save them time.
As you might expect, there is a far shorter and more understandable law that the more comprehensive that legislation becomes, the less likely it is than anyone will have a comprehensive understanding of all of its language, let alone its ramifications. Beyond this, when such law begins to take effect, the law of unintended consequences ensures the damages that follow will be almost impossible to comprehend.
So therefore, when considering the current plans for comprehensive immigration legislation, comprehensive budget reform, a comprehensive energy plan and comprehensive tax reform, Congress may want to rethink any grand schemes for change. This is not to say that change may not be worthy of consideration, and perhaps in fact even necessary. Careful consideration should be made before taking action. The way that things are done isn’t always bad, and changing them will not always result in improvement.
The other recommendation that should be made is one that successful businesses learned long ago, called KISS. No, I’m not talking about the franchise efforts of the rock band, though Gene Simmons has certainly done a fine job with it, but with the maxim: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” This means that any changes being considered should be small and simple in nature and “stupid” enough for even those of us largely uneducated on the subject involved to understand once their implications have been simply explained to us. Such changes should be not only far easier to make, but would likely far easier to live with afterward.
Tim Higgins can be reached at email@example.com.