Can Of Worms – Opened! UPDATE… Closed?

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Senator Max Baucus, the guy who is acknowledged to the the “author” of the nearly 3,000 page puss saturated band-aid also known as the Health Care Reform bill, in response to a question of whether he actually read the final HCR bill, said this at a recent town hall:

“I don’t think you want me to waste my time to read every page of the health care bill. You know why? It’s statutory language,” Baucus said. “We hire experts.”

I for one would love to see who the “experts” were that crafted this bill. Can we see that please? You know, transparency and all that?

PS. I love this exchange. Here’s Baucus, trying to ensure that the HCR bill is a good thing:

“It’s not perfect, nothing’s perfect, but I’m telling you, ma’am, it’s a good start,”  “Mark my words, several years from now you’re going to look back and say, ‘eh, maybe it isn’t so bad.’

Judy Matott, the person who asked the first question about reading the bill:

“Don’t think so,”

The Congress did this bass-ackwards. They passed it before they sold it to the public. Of course, they didn’t know what was in it because they hadn’t read it. But hey, it’s all good, right? Please, future congressmen, please take not of this fiasco, and don’t make this same mistake. I shouldn’t even have to say this, but, please, know what you’re passing before you pass it.

UPDATE:  Fellow blogger and law student David Shraub of The Debate Link has offered a very worthy counterpoint to the “didn’t read the bill” complaint. He may have won me over:

No no no. ALL bills are impenetrable. There is literally no piece of legislation you could ever open up that would not be impenetrable, because bills are written in legislative language, which isn’t like normal, comprehensible English. That’s because the purpose of a bill isn’t to explain what it contains. The purpose of a bill is to amend, substitute, replace, rewrite, or otherwise modify US Code to accomplish the desired policy ends. These two goals (clearly articulating the bill’s contents, and modifying US Code) are completely incompatible with each other. It would be folly to try and use tools designed to accomplish the latter in order to achieve the former (and vice versa).

Hence, the “experts” here aren’t lobbyists, they are experts in turning policy language into legislative language….

I think it’s silly when people try to dress up substantive objections into procedural ones — and particularly profoundly silly procedural objections which fall apart for anyone who knows anything about the legislative process (and, since I assume at least some Senators and Representatives do know something about that process, isn’t a total hack). Laws are complicated. Laws that do a lot of things are really complicated. That, if it is a sin, is a non-partisan one. And there is no other way to write a bill in which the bill text would clearly tell you what the bill does.

To be clear — we should know what legislation does before it is voted on. I don’t dispute that at all. But “reading the bill” doesn’t accomplish that end. It’s a slogan, not a solution to anyone who actually knows how Congress operates.

Speaking as someone currently in law school, being a lawyer doesn’t really train you for this sort of thing (there are folks who specialize in this sort of thing, but it isn’t all lawyers). I can parse legislative language given enough time and access to Lexis, but simply “reading the bill” wouldn’t tell me, or really any other lawyer, anything. Again, that’s not their purpose. They’re not designed to be illuminative regarding the bill’s contents. Even if you are trained in reading legislative language, they’d still be really ineffective at serving that purpose. It’s not a matter of getting the requisite experience, it’s a matter of understanding what legislative text is supposed to do. It’s supposed to modify US code. That’s its only purpose.

(Maybe a better analogy would be telling someone to “read the programming code” if they want to understand how a computer program works. Yes, technically, it’s the primary source, but binary isn’t really designed to communicate information about its contents. You read the manual for that. The bill itself = the programming code. I don’t want Max Baucus reading that. I want him to read the manual.).

So, is this “didn’t read the bill” stuff much ado about nothing? Dave has me leaning in that direction as far as that criticism goes. But, I still stand by my assertion that this bill is a mess, makes the health care system worse, and never should have been passed.

PS. Then again, the ever brilliant Ed Schultz was able to read the bill and understand it with no problems, apparently.

8 Comments to “Can Of Worms – Opened! UPDATE… Closed?”

  1. By David Schraub, August 25, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    I’m curious if you’ve ever read statutory language (that is, the language that would have been in the health care act). It is deliberately impenetrable, because invariably the “law” is modifying pieces of other laws or amending this or striking that, and it provides no useful information to anyone who isn’t an expert in parsing statutory text. The way bills are written is that the Senators (or their staffers) figure out what they want the bill to do, and then they, yes, have experts on staff who figure out how to translate that desire into statutory language.

    I had to read part of the Affordable Care Act this summer, and believe me, good policy or not, “reading the bill” would provide you with zero useful information.

  2. By Sonicfrog, August 26, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

    I have no problem with the use of experts per see when crafting legislation. That is not the crux of my post. The question is “Who were the experts”? The way this ends up benefiting the insurance companies, I can bet there were many more of their lobbyists bending Baucus’s ear than there were doctors, as this bill make it even harder for doctors to do their job.

    “I had to read part of the Affordable Care Act this summer, and believe me, good policy or not, “reading the bill” would provide you with zero useful information.”

    Yes, I read it too, even provided a link on my blog so others could too. I agree, it is impenetrable, which is the crux of the problem. If you have a bill as large in scope as this, each legislator MUST take the time to understand everything that is in it before they pass the consequences on to us. They didn’t do that. The “lead author” clearly didn’t do that.

  3. By David Schraub, August 27, 2010 @ 12:55 am

    No no no. ALL bills are impenetrable. There is literally no piece of legislation you could ever open up that would not be impenetrable, because bills are written in legislative language, which isn’t like normal, comprehensible English. That’s because the purpose of a bill isn’t to explain what it contains. The purpose of a bill is to amend, substitute, replace, rewrite, or otherwise modify US Code to accomplish the desired policy ends. These two goals (clearly articulating the bill’s contents, and modifying US Code) are completely incompatible with each other. It would be folly to try and use tools designed to accomplish the latter in order to achieve the former (and vice versa).

    Hence, the “experts” here aren’t lobbyists, they are experts in turning policy language into legislative language.

    Imagine that we had a weird rule that said the final text of any bill had to be in Norwegian. We’d figure out all the stuff we’d want in the bill, debate it, hash it out, then turn it over to some technocrat Norwegian interpreters who would write the whole thing down in Norwegian, which would be the bill. Complaining that the legislators didn’t “read the bill” would be a hollow complaint, given that few of us speak Norwegian. One could know what is in the bill while never having even glanced at the final bill text. Indeed, “reading the [Norwegian] bill” wouldn’t assist in comprehending the actual effects of the law in the slightest.

    That’s effectively the situation we have here (here being the case for all legislation, not just PPACA). The bill text doesn’t, and never does, provide useful information.

  4. By Sonicfrog, August 27, 2010 @ 5:34 am

    David, thanks for stopping back. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

    I wonder if you recognize just how horrific that sounds. There is sausage making in crafting law, but you should at the very least make sure the meat produced is not rotten!

    Yes, I understand about statutory language. I will be the first to admit I didn’t understand much of the language of the bill. But, in my defense, I’m not adequately trained to do so.

    That said, there are two fatal flaws in your argument.

    (A) Max Baucus, like approximately two thirds of the Congress at any given time, is a lawyer. He is trained to read the statutory language they deal with on a daily basis.

    (B) He’s been a legislator since 1973, and has been a Senator since 1978. He knows how to read statutory language forwards and backwards, and if he doesn’t, he should be fired immediately.

    Like most people, I generally distrust lawyers…. until I need them. OK. Just kidding. The point here is that this groups in congress has passed several extremely complicated bills that were force fed to us, bills that they themselves didn’t take the time to understand. They were passed based more on political expediency than on the merits of the legislation.

    I’m a registered libertarian (the only one in my district apparently), so I have an outsiders POV. Let me ask you this: if the Republicans retake the House and Senate, and in 2012 regain the Presidency (Sarah Palin God forbid!), would you be comfortable if they pass legislation in the same fashion?

  5. By David Schraub, August 27, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

    I’m sure I’d have horrible substantive complaints about any legislation Sarah Palin proposes. But my problem wouldn’t be that it was, like all other bills, written in legislative language. Nor would the problem be that it was passed by majority votes in both houses (which, as best I can tell, is what “force fed” means). I think it’s silly when people try to dress up substantive objections into procedural ones — and particularly profoundly silly procedural objections which fall apart for anyone who knows anything about the legislative process (and, since I assume at least some Senators and Representatives do know something about that process, isn’t a total hack). Laws are complicated. Laws that do a lot of things are really complicated. That, if it is a sin, is a non-partisan one. And there is no other way to write a bill in which the bill text would clearly tell you what the bill does.

    To be clear — we should know what legislation does before it is voted on. I don’t dispute that at all. But “reading the bill” doesn’t accomplish that end. It’s a slogan, not a solution to anyone who actually knows how Congress operates.

    Speaking as someone currently in law school, being a lawyer doesn’t really train you for this sort of thing (there are folks who specialize in this sort of thing, but it isn’t all lawyers). I can parse legislative language given enough time and access to Lexis, but simply “reading the bill” wouldn’t tell me, or really any other lawyer, anything. Again, that’s not their purpose. They’re not designed to be illuminative regarding the bill’s contents. Even if you are trained in reading legislative language, they’d still be really ineffective at serving that purpose. It’s not a matter of getting the requisite experience, it’s a matter of understanding what legislative text is supposed to do. It’s supposed to modify US code. That’s its only purpose.

    (Maybe a better analogy would be telling someone to “read the programming code” if they want to understand how a computer program works. Yes, technically, it’s the primary source, but binary isn’t really designed to communicate information about its contents. You read the manual for that. The bill itself = the programming code. I don’t want Max Baucus reading that. I want him to read the manual.).

  6. By David Schraub, August 27, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

    Schraub, not Shruab.

  7. By Sonicfrog, August 28, 2010 @ 8:29 am

    Fixed

  • GayPatriot » Lead Senate sponsor of Obamacare says he didn’t read bill, calling it a waste of time — August 25, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

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