WASHINGTON, DC—Amid charges of slipshod writing, convoluted logic and questionable constitutionality, U.S. Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) admitted Monday to waiting until the last minute to write a new law.
Though Leach met the House-imposed deadline for his bill, H.R. 1422—The Federal Hydroelectric Power Reform Act, Capitol Hill insiders say the embattled legislator's proposed legislation was "obviously slapped together at the last possible second."
"I really tried to work ahead on it," Leach said of H.R. 1422, which would provide for a transition to market-based rates for power sold by the Federal Power Marketing Administrations and the Tennessee Valley Authority. "But I just kept getting distracted by other stuff. Like last Friday, I was all ready to sit down and really crank out a bunch of provisions. But then that guy from my district was in that helicopter crash in Albania, and I had to console his family and release a statement. Then, Saturday, I had Eagle Scouts in my office the whole afternoon, so there goes that day. And you're nothing on the Hill if you don't spend Sunday in church with your family. Before you know it, the whole weekend's shot. I honestly did the best I could."
"At least I got it in on time," Leach added. "I could have begged Mr. Hastert for an extension, but I didn't."
Despite Leach's defense of his last-minute bill authorship, other legislators said the procrastination shows in his work, claiming that the bill "gets derailed from any sound legal basis by the third page" and looks suspiciously like a "pad job."
"It's really obvious that he barely worked on it, and that he was trying to stretch it out," Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) said. "He double-spaced the whole thing, set his tabs really narrow, and used the biggest font he could find. Then there are all these huge charts that, as far as I can tell, have nothing to do with anything."
Kanjorski also noted that Leach counted his cover page and bibliography toward the bill's required 10-page length.
Though Leach was given weeks to work on the bill, congressional insiders said he wasted most of the time talking on the phone with agriculture lobbyists, watching C-SPAN, and "pretending to do the reading" on H.R. 656—The Florida Wetlands Preservation Act.
"Come on," said Leach, who acknowledged that he "probably could have worked harder" on the bill. "There's still some really good ideas in there. I outlined a really good rate-scale ramping program that would let corporate customers adjust private billing over an 18-month window without negatively affecting profits. President Clinton himself said he liked the idea. But does anyone talk about that? No, all they ever talk about is how, instead of working on my bill, I took a weekend trip to Florida to survey flood damage."
"That ramping stuff's fine," Rep. John Baldacci (D-ME) said. "But what about the part where he goes off on that whole thing about establishing strict federal guidelines for long-term power-consumption forecasting, an idea that sounds an awful lot like the one outlined last year in H.R. 679 by his best friend in Congress, Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-NE). Seems a little too close to be coincidental, if you ask me."
"I wanted to survey flood damage in Florida, too, you know. But instead, I stayed inside and worked on my bill," Baldacci added. "You know what? If he's gonna keep taking trips and handing in rush-jobs, I'm not gonna vote for any of his legislation."
Among the flaws that have been found in H.R. 1422: a provision that would enable industrial hydroelectric providers to round up their billing to the nearest thousand dollars; a loophole that would permit the TVA to build up to 20 new dams without filing an environmental-impact statement; and 27 instances of improper use of the word "fiscal."
"It's a shame. Jim is so bright that if he'd just apply himself, he'd shine," House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) said. "I think he just has a problem motivating himself. And it probably wouldn't hurt if he stopped hanging around those House Veterans' Affairs Committee creeps."
Leach said he has learned his lesson.
"Man, I'll show those guys next session," he said. "No more procrastinating. No more wasting time with proclamations, public appearances and fundraiser dinners. I'm gonna totally buckle down and put my bill-writing first."
Though not demanded by House leaders, Leach said he is quitting his job as Saturday-night bartender at The Quorum, a popular Beltway nightspot.