What could possibly go wrong?

A friend of mine forwarded me the following two e-mails. While the first is bit glib (and was clearly meant to be) it nonetheless makes a few good points. I thought I’d pass them along, since I think both make valid points anybody of any political persuasion can appreciate. They are the kinds of things I’d forward to an e-mail list if I had an e-mail list, so I thought I’d post them here. (When you have as few friends as I do, you don’t take chances forwarding chain e-mails.) For the record, I’m for healthcare reform, and think our current system manages to be both socialized and capitalistic in a way that makes a mockery of both.

Let me get this straight… We’re trying to pass a health care plan written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that hasn’t read it but exempts themselves from it, to be signed by a president that also hasn’t read it and who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn’t pay his taxes, all to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese, and financed by a country that’s broke. What the hell could possibly go wrong?!?

The second e-mail:

28th Amendment proposal

For too long we have been too complacent about the workings of Congress.  Many citizens had no idea that Congress members could retire with the same pay after only one term, that they didn’t pay into Social Security, that they specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment) while ordinary citizens must live under those laws.  The latest is to exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform that is being considered…in all of its forms.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem logical.  We do not have an elite that is above the law.  I truly don’t care if they are Democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever.  The self-serving must stop. This is a good way to do that. It is an idea whose time has come.

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies  to the Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”

Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

10 thoughts on “What could possibly go wrong?

  1. Jove

    Hey Jon – Nice. Do you read Jonathan Cohn’s healthcare blog on The New Republic? Just yesterday there was a story relevant to the second point:
    http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-treatment/skin-the-game-congressional-style

    Who knows if that provision will survive to the final bill, but apparently the current plan is that the national health insurance exchange *will* apply equally to CongressFolks & regular folks. We’ll see. In general, I agree with the principle of this “28th Amendment.”

    But to the earlier point, I know the quote is intentionally glib, but this meme of “no one has read the bill!” drives me crazy. We had lots of Tea Partiers showing up at town hall meetings here in PA, waving their (supposed) printouts of bills around, yelling, “READ THE BILL!” at our representatives (as if they had done so themselves instead of just parroting the Fox News synopsis). Yes, bills are long and complicated. So are “A Tale of Two Cities” or “Cryptonomicon” but I read those AND IT WASN’T MY JOB TO DO SO. Congresspeople, even the not so bright ones, also have large staffs whose job it is to read bills and brief them because THAT IS THEIR WHOLE JOB. Now I’m not saying that (especially when things get amended 1,000 times) that I believe every Congressperson is 100% fluent in every line of every bill. But this idea that, because something is long and complicated, no one in the government could possibly have read or understood it, drives me batty.

    Sorry for the rant.

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Post author

      Never apologize for a rant on this blog. I agree that the Tea Partiers may just be following along. There are always people on any side of something who agree with it for the wrong reasons. But I think the “no one has read the bill” thing is not so easily dismissed. Yes, they have staffer who are specialized in reading the bills, and the congressperson gets summaries from their staffers. But the 1000 pages of a bill are lot more dense than even a Russian novel. Verbally hearing a summary would probably take as long as skimming the entire 1000 pages, if one is to hear about all the little earmarks. I don’t think it’s actually a very controversial idea to suggest that the vast majority of congress doesn’t actually have intimate knowledge of all the amendments in a bill (which is how they get to be so long). Shouldn’t our representatives know everything that they are voting on?

      Regardless of whether or not somebody on the congressional staff has read the whole thing or not, our laws shouldn’t be so convoluted that you need a staff to read them. How is the public supposed to keep track of what’s going on? We don’t have staff. It’s too easy to get away with things when bills are that long. It’s how we get bridges to nowhere.

      So, the point is that a 1000 page bill is too long, regardless of who really reads it, because the only reason for 1000 page bills is to stuff in earmarks. It’s not so much that I think a 1000 page bill is truly impossible for somebody to read, it’s that, regardless, a 1000 page bill is a symptom of a badly broken system.

      (By the way, the meme started not because people were assuming nobody could read 1000 pages, but because a few congress folk made the mistake of confessing they hadn’t read bills they voted on. I believe this really got traction after the rush to pass the $700B bailout bill.)

      Reply
  2. Alain DeWitt

    Jove,

    Do you think there are more than two dozen people that have read the entire bill? I don’t. My guess is that staffers were assigned to work on sections of the bill and didn’t read the entire thing. And I would bet you money NO member of Congress has read the entie thing.

    As for Tea Partiers ‘just parroting the Fox News synopsis’, that’s pretty condescending. You almost sound like you are parroting Keith Olberman’s or Rachel Madow’s criticism of the Tea Partiers.

    Alain

    Reply
    1. Jove

      Jon,
      I do agree with the basic principle that bills shouldn’t have (unrelated) “earmarks” that make them long. I also agree with the basic principle that bills should be understandable. (On a related note, I think our tax code should be short and understandable and not require a college-educated person to buy TurboTax or hire an accountant to do their own taxes.) What I’m disagreeing with is the notion that if a bill is long, it must be full of earmarks or that it can’t possibly be understood by anyone. I think you’re right that the meme got started by Congresspeople admitting they hadn’t read bills (cf. Fahrenheit 911). We’ve also had bills that were literally “rammed through” in a matter of days or hours. To hear people suggest that HCR is being “rammed through” after almost a year of debate makes my blood boil. But at any rate, I see this original meme propagating into a mentality of “IF bill = long THEN bill = unreadable.” Which doesn’t follow.

      Technical manuals for proton accelerators, or even cars, are long and dense and I don’t understand them. But it doesn’t mean I assume a trained technician or auto mechanic doesn’t.

      Alain, it’s nice to meet you. Two things I wanted to say: first, if you have a team of people, each of whom have read sections and combine their evaluations, I honestly *don’t* see why one person has to read it all. I’m not being contrary, I’m serious. In my job, we have teams of people who regularly receive documents that are several thousand pages long and it’s our job to evaluate them and turn them around in sometimes in as little as 30 days. Different sections call for different expertise, so in fact it would be WORSE if one person tried to read the 3000+ pages him/herself. Divide and conquer. The merit of “one person reading the whole bill” is nice in theory but honestly I don’t think the value is as obvious in practice.

      Also, I’m not parroting anyone. I’ve confronted Tea Partiers at townhalls, I’ve been to Tea Party rallies, I’ve seen people holding what are printouts of right-wing blogs’ line-item quotations (or synposes) of bills screaming at my Senator to “READ THE BILL!” They are clearly being disingenuous in implying they have read it themselves.

      P.S. To end on a more positive note, I just have to say, because I just clicked the link at the bottom of this page that Alex is an adorable, adorable little person. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Jonathan Post author

        Hi Jove,

        A book on linear electron accelerators is about 400 pages long. The current healthcare bill is now up to about 2000, if I understand correctly. Not that these are all comparable, but I think something is wrong if one can learn the physics of LINACs in fewer pages than it takes one to learn how to comply with our healthcare law.

        I actually agree with all of your points about the oversimplicity of inherently objecting to long bills, as if they can’t be possibly read. I think there is ample empirical evidence that 1000 pages is, in fact, apparently too long much of the time. But I agree it’s not a given, whatsoever, and I don’t think the original post I put up insinuated that. It simply stated that congress hasn’t read the whole bill.

        I also take your point that the reading can be delegated. Given that the documents are used to restrict our freedoms and spend our money (and sometimes actually help us) I think they should have to read the damn things personally. If laws are so complicated they have to be delegated by the people writing them, then I think our laws are getting out of hand. And I didn’t elect their staffers.

        Your examples compare our federal laws to very complicated things that take many years of school to understand. Why should our laws, which common people are expected to follow, be so complicated? It’s one thing for a federal budget to be 1000 pages. I just don’t see why our healthcare bill should be this long. How the HELL am I supposed to figure out if I should tell my representative to vote for or against it? The people should be able to understand what our congress is up to, and we don’t have staff who can summarize for us. Doesn’t that seem reasonable?

        But yes, we can all agree that Alex is a very cute little guy!

        Reply
  3. Alain DeWitt

    Hi Jove,

    Nice to meet you, too.

    I don’t mean to sound snippy, but I think you are confusing the meaning of imply and infer. We hire lawmakers to pass laws. They are the trained technicians or auto mechanics of the law, if you will. It’s their JOB to read the laws they pass. Simply asking – however vehemently – your representative to read a bill he or she indicates they are going to vote for does not in any way imply that you have read it. You have inferred that.

    As for health care being rammed through, yes, there has been a year of debate – and neither Democrats nor the administration have made any headway in convincing anyone that this reform is a good idea. When they talk about passing a bill of this magnitude through budget reconciliation, then pass the lube, please, because the ramming is nigh.

    Alain

    Reply
    1. Jove

      Alain: Fair enough, I think we will just have to agree to disagree about what is being implied by or inferred from the tone and conduct of The Vehement Ones. If you are a Tea Partier yourself, I apologize if I have been condescending; you sound much more rational than the ones I have personally witnessed.

      I will also agree that the D’s have handled HCR extremely poorly, but to say that they have not convinced “anyone” is a stretch. And heaven forbid that a majority in both houses elected by a majority of the U.S. population resort to the dirty trickery of passing a final bill via a majority vote. Shame on them.

      Reply
  4. Alain

    Jove,

    I’m not a Tea Partier, per se, but I do agree with a lot of their criticisms. And, yes, I think we probably have fundamental disagreements on this issue and aren’t likely to convince one another.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch at all. I think people that were already in favor of some form of single-payer health care system – and hence didn’t need convincing – support what the Democrats and the Obama administration are trying to do. But since the beginning of their effort to enact this reform, I think their poll numbers on this issue have gone only one way, and it ain’t up.

    I don’t want to get into a long, drawn out debate about the history of reconciliation in which, again, neither one of us will convince the other. I don’t agree with it. I think for change this sweeping, there should be SOLID bi-partisan support. The Dems don’t even have the veneer of bi-partisan support. Buying the votes of individual members of your own party (Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln) is pretty much the opposite of that.

    Alain

    Reply
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