Another Senator won’t read the health care bill

Posted on October 2, 2009

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Thomas Carper, Democratic Senator from Delaware and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, told CNS News that he doesn’t expect to read the actual language of his committee’s health care bill because it’s too “arcane” and “confusing.” Here’s what else he had to say:

I don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because reading the legislative language is among the more confusing things I’ve ever read in my life.

…When you get into the legislative language, Senator Conrad actually read some of it, several pages of it, the other day and I don’t think anybody had a clue–including people who have served on this committee for decades–what he was talking about. So, legislative language is so arcane, so confusing, refers to other parts of the code—‘and after the first syllable insert the word X’–and it’s just, it really doesn’t make much sense.

…So the idea of reading the plain English version: Yeah, I’ll probably do that. The idea of reading the legislative language: It’s just anyone who says that they can do that and actually get much out of it is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

…They might say that they’re reading it.  They might say that they’re understanding it. But that would probably be the triumph of man’s hope over experience. It’s hard stuff to understand.

…I think if people had the chance to read that they’ll say you know maybe it doesn’t make much sense for either the legislators or me to read that kind of arcane language. It’s just hard to decipher what it really means.

There’s a lot of stuff there, but the admission is simply staggering. The continued idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to be absolutely clueless about the actual language of the bill is both a sad commentary on the state of our legislature and a frightening concept if one considers who holds the actual power. Is it the publicly accountable Senators who vote on it or the faceless lawyers and bureaucrats who write the real language of the bill?

The first defense given is that legislators are working with the next best thing, the “plain English” version of the bill that is more conceptual and less jargon-filled, making it easier for the layman to understand and debate. That’s undoubtedly true, but Sen. John Cornyn is right – having such a layer of separation between legislators and the legislation makes it easier to slip small provisions in unnoticed or let unintentionally bad clauses float through unnoticed. The devil for anything is in the details, and while the Senators may trust their lawyers to make a faithful translation, I don’t. I didn’t vote for the lawyers, I voted for the Senators. And, anyway, is it supposed to be inspiring that Congress has to essentially use Cliff Notes to debate its own legislation?

What’s even more mind-blowing is the pervasive belief that this kind of situation is acceptable, even desirable. The thinking goes that this stuff is highly technical, written for specialists by specialists, and will therefore inherently be over the head of most of the general public. You would want actual physicists writing a physics textbook, wouldn’t you?

Here’s the problem – we’re not talking about the International Astronomical Union crafting a technical manual on planetary mechanics, we’re talking about the United States Congress crafting broad and sweeping legislation that is going to affect the lives of every single American. Even the most apathetic voter would expect at a minimum their representative to at least understand what it is they’re voting on. It’s simply not good enough to say, “Well, we do know what we’re voting on, in theory anyway.”

Here’s a good rule of thumb – if a piece of legislation is too complex and filled with gibberish for Senate committee members to comprehend, then it might not be such a great thing to inflict on the rest of the nation.

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Posted in: News, Politics