• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Inappropriate for Appropriations Bills (and Other Bills, Too)

    This session, Congress has consistently increased criminal penalties through legislation. In what type of bills are they doing it? In appropriations bills, of course. Where else would Congress increase criminal penalties?

    For example, in the fiscal year (FY) 2013 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, the maximum penalties for violation of Arms Export Control Act would increase from 10 years in prison to 20 years. Other bills, such as the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, FY 2013, would also up the penalty for fraud. Why the increase? Because fraud is bad, of course, but if it violates this law, well, then fraud is really bad.

    The natural question is “Why does that make sense?” There are, of course, several potential explanations for this phenomenon.

    Maybe it’s a form of adjustment for inflation. Occasional increases in fines due to inflation are appropriate. A $500 fine in 1950 dollars would not inflict the same punishment in 2012 dollars. Maybe Congress thinks that jail sentences work the same way because the average life expectancy is increasing. But that can’t be the reason here. The increases double the existing punishments, and the average life expectancy hasn’t doubled in the last century.

    Maybe crimes are more heinous today. Maybe fraud and other crimes weren’t as bad when the original laws were passed. The same conduct is surely, well, the same. So that rationale won’t work either.

    The most likely reason is that legislators are searching for ways to pay lip service to constituents or just giving in to federal agency demands. Congress routinely creates more criminal offenses in election years.

    So why in an appropriations bill? Appropriations bills are notorious for being “Christmas tree bills,” because there is something in them for everyone. Pork-barrel spending is added along with other amendments that would never pass any other way.

    When Congress creates new crimes, in most instances, there is already a law on the books that deals with the issue, so the new legislation is unnecessary. The new legislation is too often drafted too broadly and reaches conduct that was not intended to be made a crime by the new law. And when legislators can’t think of a new crime, they increase penalties on existing crimes to show that they are tough on crime.

    When legislators pile on, however, there can be unforeseen—and harmful—consequences. Sometimes, it is better for Congress to do nothing.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    2 Responses to Inappropriate for Appropriations Bills (and Other Bills, Too)

    1. Bobbie says:

      Exactly right congress should do nothing! Makes no sense to extend the prison time at a cost when the penalized can be held to the cost! What about the fraud in government? What about corruption like the government people are doing in every aspect of their democrat government tax paid job? When fraud is in the private sector we get justice when it's in the government sector we get screwed. There's too much government out of our control, increasing the opportunities to fraud and corrupt the government's favorite tax payers. Like government controlled corrupt redundancies in all areas, for one! "we need to increase taxes" pathetic people party. Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi tell you're party to Control yourselves and have some dignity!

    2. PTurner says:

      If Congress is sitting around feeling the need to legislate SOMEthing, why not make it a criminal offense to bury totally UNRELATED concerns within a bill being considered?
      A bill should relate to a specific concern, and any attending situations that could directly impact the original concern. PERIOD. Anything else deserves it's own bill and separate consideration.
      And while they are at it, it might be helpful, to we the people at least, if it would be legislated that NO BILL may be voted upon sooner than 30 days following the date on which full and final hard copies of it were provided to each legislator, and posted online for consideration of the public in general. Such a provision would allow time for folks to actually be aware of what they are voting on.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.