The Senate and the Justice Department dismiss this problem. Roger Pauley of the Department of Justice said, "A lot of members of Congress seize on any procedural issue to avoid coming to grips with the code reform issue. It is always rare that a majority or a substantial minority knows what they are voting on." The Post and The Times too editorially censured the House subcommittee for what they saw as an attempt to duck a complicated problem in an election year.
But such facile criticism misses the point. The House Judiciary Committee has not rejected comprehensive code reform. The committee members simply decided that they could not, in good conscience, pass legislation on faith, praying that the Senate had done a good job on the bill.
No matter what the intentions of the bill's drafters, a document that large always contains surprises, few if any of them pleasant.
Kennedy has already made it clear that when Congress reconvenes, he will reintroduce an omnibus bill. The House Judiciary Committee on its part shows no sign of wavering in its recently created position. Justice, according to one high ranking official, would prefer omnibus reform but could live with a series of bills. The stage is already set for the kind of inter-house legislative battle on procedure in which the omnibus approach might prevail. It will not prevail, however, on its merits, because a genuine debate on merits has been submerged in the claims that the House somehow avoided its duty when it raised questions about the omnibus procedure.
NEXT YEAR THE PARAMOUNT goal must be, as every principal in the reform effort has stressed, to replace the arbitrary, sometimes dangerous law that now governs our criminal justice system. But in emphasizing that goal it has been too easy first to rationalize repressive new laws, then to justify a monolithic approach that could frustrate the will of Congress.
The bill as it now reads hides policy issues under a mountain of paper. Criminal code reform will remain a parody of lawmaking until legislators can devise a bill that they fully understand.