THE WHITE HOUSE says the president will veto the continuing resolution if the language reviving the so-called fairness doctrine stays in. He should. We say that not just because we oppose the doctrine; the president is right on procedural grounds. The megabills to which Congress has turned increasingly in recent years destroy the normal legislative process and eliminate accountability.
The excuse is that these bills are the only way to do even the most basic business in a government this divided. That may be so, and in fairness, it is not just Congress that has used them. The administration invented the modern megabill in 1981, the celebrated Gramm-Latta mural in which the president and David Stockman touched up half the government. The big bills remain the means of forcing compromise; the defense and domestic budgets become hostages for one another.
But it is meaningless to bring to the floor a single $587 billion appropriation bill covering everything from nuclear weapons and arms control to national parks. A congressman is asked to vote only yes or no; what does either vote signify? The blur, the general retreat from responsibility, becomes even greater when the leadership allows altogether extraneous issues to be tacked on. Nor are these always issues of great national moment. The House bill takes the time to instruct the D.C. government in the number of lanes to be maintained on the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge; the current Senate version includes instructions to the city council on the delicate subject of AIDS and health insurance.
We propose a new fairness doctrine, more worthy of the name. The leadership, if it feels it must resort to these omnibills to draw up and enact a budget, at least should keep them clean. They should not be used to sneak to passage unrelated legislation that could not survive if tested on its own. It's bad enough to use these huge freight trains at all. To stuff them with free-standing legislation such as the failed bill to revive the fairness doctrine is just plain wrong.