Paul Jacob

Congress passes many bills without reading them. Some are prepared so close to the vote that not even their sponsors really know what they say.

That's nothing new. We all know this. But here's a surprise: Now the Senate can push through the legislation no one reads even faster, lickety-split. It's called hotlining, and it was designed to get nitpicky business-y kinds of things done quickly.

But recently the business has turned serious.

Here's what happens: The Senate Majority and Minority Leaders agree to pass a bill without a vote. They call all senators on special hotlines installed in each office, giving a specified amount of time to object — sometimes as little as 15 minutes. If no objection is registered, the bill passes.

Welcome to Washington, D.C., folks, where quantity of legislation is more important than quality. Yes, our nation's capitol is filled with people so motivated to do their job that they can do it with their voting hands tied behind their backs. In the buildings that Madison once walked, where the Adamses deliberated, where Webster, Calhoun and Clay orated — and where Preston Brooks took his Gutta-percha cane and beat Senator Charles Sumner into unconsciousness — today time is of such essence that the Senate must pass bills while the august solons frolic with staff, pages, and the habitués of airport bathrooms.

In a four-day period this summer, of the 153 hotline calls made 75 were legislative measures, 61 were nominations, and 17 were post-office-naming bills.

Naming post offices? Well, I can see hotlining such tasks. Heck, the U.S. government shouldn't even be in the postal service biz any longer, so why bother the Senate with such trivialities as naming each post office? So maybe the expediting of that kind of legislation makes a certain kind of sense.

But real laws? Real money? You'd think the senators could bother to gather in chamber and push a button for the crucial stuff.

And maybe even prick up their ears and limber up their tongues to discuss, debate, perchance to deliberate.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.