Tag: read the bill

Will the Last ObamaCare Supporter Please Turn off the Lights?

Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) was the primary author of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known colloquially and affectionately as ObamaCare. Today, he predicted his own law would cause a “huge train wreck” when the federal government begins implementing it fully later this year. He’s not the only one who’s worried. Other Democratic senators have expressed concerns. An Obama administration official recently offered this vote of confidence:

We are under 200 days from open enrollment, and I’m pretty nervous…The time for debating about the size of text on the screen or the color or is it a world-class user experience, that’s what we used to talk about two years ago…Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.

How could Baucus come to fear his own bill? Maybe because he never read it, as he admitted to his Libby, Montana, constituents in 2010:

Naturally, a Baucus flack later clarified what he meant:

Senator Baucus wrote the bill that passed the Finance Committee and then worked with his colleagues to write the health care bill that is law today. He has spent years crafting this policy and hundreds of hours reading and perfecting it. There is simply no question that he understands the provisions in the health care law…

If so, perhaps Baucus could explain the law to his colleague, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller may have spent more time studying health care than any other U.S. senator, Baucus included. For example, Rockefeller founded the Alliance for Health Reform and headed the organization for more than a decade. And yet Rockefeller finds ObamaCare to be “the most complex piece of legislation ever passed by the United States Congress” and “just beyond comprehension”:

But can we really blame Baucus if ObamaCare supporters – including himself – didn’t understand the bill they were passing? After all, he warned us that not all of them would understand it:

So to recap: Baucus wrote an early draft of the law, helped to write subsequent drafts, didn’t read the final law, totally understands it, and now fears it.

Will the last ObamaCare supporter please turn off the lights?

Tuesday Links

  • Dear members of Congress: If you’re not going to read the bills you pass,  at least read the Constitution. Don’t fret; it’s short and written in plain English.
  • NYC: “The city that never smokes.” A proposal to ban lighting up in New York’s parks has exposed the puritanical agenda behind the crusade against smoking.
  • Tyler Cowen: With health care costs high and rising, government mandates to buy insurance would make many people worse off.

“Read the Bill” = Deliberative Process, Please

The debate about whether members of Congress and senators should read bills has been getting highly literal lately. It’s capped off by Angie Drobnic Holan’s article, “Speed-Reading the Health Care Reform Bill?, on Politifact (a St. Petersburg Times site) this morning.

Faced with a 1,000-or-so-page health care reform proposal, “a person could conquer the bill in seven to 13 hours.”

There you have it! That’s what it takes if you want ‘em to read the bill!

Of course, the “read-the-bill” concept is a stand-in for others:

One is simply having a more deliberative process in Congress. It’s dawning on the American public that bad things happen when Congress operates in haste—the derivatives debacle, for example. Oh, and also, government takeovers. Oh yeah, and spending orgies.

But “read the bill” is also about power.

“Waiting periods … tend to disperse power to people who might otherwise be at the margins of the debate,” reports Holan. “Centrist Democrats in the Senate, for example, have asked for waiting periods after amendments and conference reports.”

It goes beyond that, too. Letting the public read finalized bills before they become law allows the public to second-guess Washington, D.C. and transfers power back home. People want to use the Internet to have more say in governance.

And there is far more knowledge, sense, and brain-power out there in the land than on Capitol Hill (I say as a former legislative staffer). Given a regular process for doing so, the people (and lawyers) faced with implementing proposed federal laws would examine and critique proposals in Congress much more than they do now. This would help improve results, though Members of Congress would surely chafe at being overseen by the lowly public.

Speaking of waiting periods, recall that President Obama promised to post the bills coming out of Congress for five days before he signs them. Let’s take a look at how he’s done with this promise so far:

Still only one of 68 have been posted online for five days before signing. Forty-six of 68 (nearly 68%) have been held at the White House for five days after presentment. There is nothing stopping the president from posting these bills online for the time he promised.

It might be that the folks in the White House don’t want to reveal the trivialities that Congress and the president deal with. Eighteen of the 68 new laws this year (26%) have renamed post offices and courthouses.

Also, five bills have been temporary extensions of existing laws (plus one temporary government funding measure). These are all examples of Congress and the president failing to manage existing government programs and spending. It’s possible that the White House doesn’t want to give exposure to these laws and bring discredit on the federal government generally.

Whatever the case, here’s the list so far of new laws and the president’s adherence to the “Sunlight Before Signing” pledge.

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Five Days? Posted (Linked)? Posted Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 No 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 No 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 No 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 No 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 No 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-13, The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act 4/20/2009 4/21/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-14, To designate the United States courthouse under construction at 327 South Church Street, Rockford, Illinois, as the “Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse” 4/14/2009 4/23/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-15, The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009 4/14/2009 4/24/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-16, The Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-17, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of David M. Rubenstein as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 4/28/2009 5/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-18, A bill to repeal section 10(f) of Public Law 93-531, commonly known as the “Bennett Freeze” 4/28/2009 5/8/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-19, The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-20, The Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act of 2009 5/5/2009 5/15/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-21, The FERA 5/19/2009 5/20/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-22, The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-23, The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 5/21/2009 5/22/2009 No 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-24, The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-25, The Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act 5/21/2009 6/2/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-26, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 12877 Broad Street in Sparta, Georgia, as the “Yvonne Ingram-Ephraim Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-27, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 300 East 3rd Street in Jamestown, New York, as the “Stan Lundine Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-28, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 103 West Main Street in McLain, Mississippi, as the “Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-29, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 3245 Latta Road in Rochester, New York, as the “Brian K. Schramm Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-30, The Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 Extension Act 6/19/2009 6/19/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-31, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 6/16/2009 6/22/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-32, The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 6/19/2009 6/24/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-33, The Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009 6/16/2009 6/26/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-34, To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 306 East Main Street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as the “J. Herbert W. Small Federal Building and United States Courthouse” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-35, To designate the Federal building located at 799 United Nations Plaza in New York, New York, as the “Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-36, The Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-37, The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 6/25/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-38, A bill to provide additional personnel authorities for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 6/24/2009 6/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-39, To make technical corrections to the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes 6/26/2009 7/1/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-40, A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (”WASP”) 6/24/2009 7/1/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-41, The Korean War Veterans Recognition Act 7/27/2009 7/27/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-42, Approving the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 7/28/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-43, A bill to provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 7/30/2009 7/31/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-44, The New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-45, To authorize the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to use funds made available under the Trademark Act of 1946 for patent operations in order to avoid furloughs and reductions-in-force, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-46, To restore sums to the Highway Trust Fund, and for other purposes 8/4/2009 8/7/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-47, Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2009 for the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program 8/6/2009 8/7/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-48, The Miami Dade College Land Conveyance Act 7/31/2009 8/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-49, The Judicial Survivors Protection Act of 2009 8/3/2009 8/12/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-50, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 46-02 21st Street in Long Island City, New York, as the “Geraldine Ferraro Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-51, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 601 8th Street in Freedom, Pennsylvania, as the “John Scott Challis, Jr. Post Office” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-52, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2351 West Atlantic Boulevard in Pompano Beach, Florida, as the “Elijah Pat Larkins Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-53, The Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2009 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-54, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 41 Purdy Avenue in Rye, New York, as the “Caroline O’Day Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-55, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 431 State Street in Ogdensburg, New York, as the “Frederic Remington Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-56, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 123 11th Avenue South in Nampa, Idaho, as the “Herbert A Littleton Postal Station” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-57, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1300 Matamoros Street in Laredo, Texas, as the “Laredo Veterans Post Office” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-58, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 702 East University Avenue in Georgetown, Texas, as the “Kyle G. West Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-59, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 19190 Cochran Boulevard FRNT in Port Charlotte, Florida, as the “Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Boehm Post Office Building” 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-60, To extend the deadline for commencement of construction of a hydroelectric project 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-61, Recognizing the service, sacrifice, honor, and professionalism of the Noncommissioned Officers of the United States Army 8/11/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-62, A joint resolution granting the consent and approval of Congress to amendments made by the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Regulation Compact 8/7/2009 8/19/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-63, The WIPA and PABSS Reauthorization Act of 2009 9/10/2009 9/18/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-64, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of France A. Cordova as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 9/11/2009 9/18/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-65, To provide for the award of a gold medal on behalf of Congress to Arnold Palmer in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf 9/21/2009 9/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-66, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 9/30/2009 9/30/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-67, The Defense Production Act Reauthorization of 2009 9/24/2009 9/30/2009 Yes No No
P.L. 111-68, The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2010 9/30/2009 10/1/2009 No No No
P.L. 111-69, The Fiscal Year 2010 Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act 9/30/2009 10/1/2009 Yes No No

Carper: We Trust Our Staff So You Can Trust Us

A deep fissure between federal lawmaking practices and the Internet-fueled expectations of the people is just starting to open.

Here’s a fascinating interview with Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), in which he justifies not reading the legislation that he votes on.

He’s right that the bills Congress passes are almost incomprehensible, but he draws the wrong conclusion from it. It’s not OK to pass bills that you can’t read and literally don’t understand.

Congress and the bureaucracy will come to learn a lesson that other parts of our society have learned: The Internet changes things.

Because it is now possible to see legislation before Congress passes it, Americans now expect to see legislation before it passes. And they will come to expect that their representative understand it—in detail.

A machine has grown up in Washington over the past two hundred years where representatives rely on colleagues who rely on staff to write bills. This has not produced a desirable body of federal law, and it is not a process that the public will accept for much longer.