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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Riddle Me This

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Riddle Me This

What is worse than Congress voting on bills that they have not read?

Proposing bills that cannot be understood if read.

Nicholas Ballasy of CNSNews reports in "Finance Committee Democrat Won’t Read Text of Health Bill, Says Anyone Who Claims They’ll Understand It ‘Is Trying to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes’," that
Sen. Thomas Carper (Del.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, told that he does not “expect” to read the actual legislative language of the committee’s health care bill because it is “confusing” and that anyone who claims they are going to read it and understand it is fooling people.

“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,” Carper told Carper described the type of language the actual text of the bill would finally be drafted in as "arcane," "confusing," "hard stuff to understand," and "incomprehensible." He likened it to the "gibberish" used in credit card disclosure forms.
How is Senator Carper, and if he is correct, and member of the Senate able to determine how he or she will vote if they cannot understand the language?  As an aside, don't members of Congress frequently complain about and periodically pass laws to limit arcane gibberish used in credit card disclosure forms?  Who is interpreting the bill for those who have not read it?  The article actually provides an answer to the first question.
Senator Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), who sits on the committee, told on Thursday that the panel was just following its standard practice in working with a “plain language description” of the bill rather than an actual legislative text.

“It’s not just conceptual, it’s a plain language description of the various provisions of the bill is what the Senate Finance Committee has always done when it passes legislation and that is turned into legislative language which is what is presented to the full Senate for consideration,” said Bingaman.
Some Senators believe that they should have access to the actual legislation.
...Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who also serves on the committee, said the descriptive language the committee is working with is not good enough because things can get slipped into the legislation unseen.

“The conceptual language is not good enough,” said Cornyn. “We’ve seen that there are side deals that have been cut, for example, with some special interest groups like the hospital association to hold them harmless from certain cuts that would impact how the CBO scores the bill or determines cost. So we need to know not only the conceptual language, we need to know the detailed legislative language, and we need to know what kind of secret deals have been cut on the side which would have an impact on how much this bill is going to cost and how it will affect health care in America.”

When will the bill be made available so that I can read it?  Well, at least there is an answer to the last question too.
Last week, the Finance Committee considered an amendment offered by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) that would have required the committee to post the full actual language of the proposed legislation online for at least 72 hours before holding a final committee vote on it. The committee defeated the amendment 13-10.


  1. I agree completely with Sen. John Cornyn when he states that.. "[The interpretation of the proposal they are] working with is not good enough because things can get slipped into the legislation unseen." When reading a long, repetitive, and/or confusing document, one can become "numbed" to what he or she is reading and overlook major points. It's easy to slip something through the cracks when it is immersed in useless, or repetitive information. I also agree that Senators should be allowed to review the actual legislation. The more they understand the issues, the better off we will be as a people. We will benefit in the long run if our Senate has a complete and sound understanding of the bills presented to them to vote on.

  2. catherine hall4/10/09 7:08 PM

    I agree. When reading something with words you dont understand or even just to long and repetitive it can get very boring and you zone out and dont remember what you currently read. Its as if reading in a second language. You understand some of it but if you miss key words you wont get the correct idea or meaning of the topic

  3. laci lynn said...

    I agree with both Carper and Cornyn. Carper says "the actual bill is confusing" I agree it is hard to read and understand a series of long text that have "confusing" things in them but, I also agree with Cornyn. Cornyn says that "the
    descriptive language the committee is working with is not good enough because things can get slipped into the legislation unseen."