You might think that passing a bill through Congress is a really difficult and honorable task that involves late night debates, hours spent analyzing proposals and reading legislation, policy wonks splitting hairs over detailed issues, and a healthy dose of respectful opposition and transparency. Oh boy, would you be wrong. In this Congress, it’s rahm rahm rahm, Chicago-style.
According to recent reports, Congressional leaders are censoring congressional mailings to avoid the appearance of two sides to the health care debate. And what is being censored? Democrats should be called “the majority,” and the “public option” cannot under any circumstances be called “government-run.” Not being able to say the “public option” is government-run is like being told you cannot call the Earth a planet. It’s simply incompatible with common sense, and the facts.
So for education purposes, here is an updated lesson on how a bill becomes a law in Washington.
Introduce a Bill, But Not the One You Really Plan on Passing: On Friday, June 26, 2009, the House of Representatives voted on final passage of the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade Bill, a major piece of global warming legislation this year that will have a huge effect on the economy and the price Americans pay for energy. Both sides of this debate spent months arguing over the details. And then, at 3:09 am on June 26, the morning of the vote, the majority added over 300 pages to the bill. As of the final vote, not one member had a clear idea what was contained in that amendment.
Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Read the Bill: Reading the bill will only confuse the process and, according to Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), it will also take upwards of two days and two staffers, so it is not worth it. At the National Press Club this week, Congressman Conyers said: “I love these members that get up and say, ‘read the bill.’ What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages, and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”
Further, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said “If every member pledged to not vote for [the health care bill] if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes.” Hoyer continued: “I’m laughing because a) I don’t know how long this bill is going to be, but it’s going to be a very long bill.”
Make the Bill Very Long and Very Complicated: The best way to achieve the previous objective of not reading the bill is to take the length of War & Peace, double it, and then use that as a starting point. The current House version of health care legislation is over 1,000 pages long. The stimulus bill was over 1,500 pages long. The Cap and Trade bill was over 1,000 pages long, and remember, had 300 pages added at the last minute. No sneaky spending hidden in there, you can trust ‘em.
Bypass Your Committee: If the moderate voices of Congress wish to debate a bill in committee and propose alternative ideas, bypass the committee entirely. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) knows this rule well, and has suggested there is “no alternative” to bypassing the committee if Blue Dog Democrats don’t accept the terms of the deal he sets on health care reform this week. Yes, there is clearly no alternative.
Keep the American People in the Dark: When President Barack Obama took office, he promised on his transition website he would “not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days.” He failed to live to this promise on his very first piece of legislation. In fact, the website the White House unveiled to detail “transparent” stimulus spending was so bad, and lacked so little detail, that a cottage industry of private websites popped up to fill the void.
Censor the Opposition: If nobody reads the opposition, did it really exist? Of course not. In an attempt to keep the American people in the dark, you must not let them hear opposing views, especially during a week where the President sets aside one hour of primetime network television time to address his side. Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) tried recently to send a chart detailing the expansion of government under the current plan, and the House Franking Commission told him no, even though it did not challenge the chart’s accuracy or purpose. Congressman John Carter (R-TX) tried to call the public plan “government-run” and was promptly told to cease saying such obvious things. It’s much easier to pass a bill when you can write the talking points for both sides.
When the CBO Says Bad Things, Bring the Director in for a “Chat”: Last week, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Douglas Elmendorf was summoned to the White House after his office released an analysis showing that the President’s health care plan would increase the deficit and not produce the savings it promised. This move was absolutely unprecedented, as Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) points out: “[This] reeks of the type of Chicago-style politics that Americans were warned about. The CBO was created to be independent and nonpartisan. To spoil that with political dealings in the West Wing only adds to American cynicism about the President’s misguided health care plan.”
Finally, Pass the Bill on a Friday: When passing really expensive bills that hurt the economy and fail to meet their objective, it is imperative this be done as late on Friday as possible, so by Monday people will have mostly forgotten, like the Waxman-Markey bill. The only thing better than a Friday is a Saturday in August when Americans are on vacation. Saturday, August 1 would be ideal for the health care bill, if there were to be one voted on before the recess. Luckily, that is the current plan.
So there you have the 2009 guide to passing a bill through Congress. There will certainly be changes to these rules, but we can’t promise you’ll be told of them.