Paul Jacob

But no, hotlining is apparently all the rage. A few of these bills authorized hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending.

Thankfully, some rage against the political machine has been building. In a floor speech last year, Sen. Jeff Sessions from Alabama noted that these bills can be as long as 500 pages. Many staffs simply ignore the calls, he said, and "the Senator is deemed to have consented to the passage of some bill" without ever been told diddley or squat.

This issue made a ripple in the news last month. An article appeared in Roll Call. The heroic Mark Tapscott explained hotlining to his audience at The Examiner, and opined that "Democracy itself will soon become a joke, or worse, if drastic reforms are not soon forced upon this Congress and all that follow."

If anything, Tapscott understates the case. Congress is already a joke. It has been for some time. It's a bipartisan joke, and I get the feeling that the Old Guard in office — the long-term incumbents resting in secrecy behind their oak bookshelves of leather-bound editions and stashes of half-drunken bourbon bottles — shout out a whoop every night, jeering at the taxpayers who keep them in office.

And the situation is only getting worse. Nearly 400 bills and resolutions went through the senatorial mill this year. Only 29 were approved by a roll-call vote.

This is not representative government. How can anyone be represented when the stand-ins are, well, out? Out to lunch.

And, as Sessions suggested, that's just how many in the Senate like it. The leadership likes to "get things done" without all the constitutional bother of debate and voting. Rank-and-file senators themselves like things done without them bothering to . . . bother at all. Besides, if someone complains, he (or she) can just say, "Well, I was out that day." Can't stand by the phone every minute!

You might be thinking, along with Tapscott, something to this effect: "But doesn't the Constitution require that federal spending bills be approved only after a public debate?"

Well, yes. But that and a nickel will get you five pennies. Sure, senators took an oath to uphold the Constitution. But actually stick to their word? Play by the rules?

How retro.

What could you be thinking?

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.