Congress About To Pass 'The ______Act of____' (These Are The People We Elect?)

from the bang-head-on-wall-slowly dept

This coming Wednesday I was supposed to be attending the Congressional Internet Caucus’ State of the Net West event, but late last week it was announced that the event was postponed, because for only the third time in the past twenty years, the Speaker of the House (in this case, Nancy Pelosi) has called the House back into session early to vote on pending legislation. With Congress back in session the Congressional reps scheduled to attend the event couldn’t make it, and it’s not much of a Congressional Internet Caucus get together without Congressional reps. Anyway, the last time the House was called back early like this, it involved emergency legislation to deal with Hurricane Katrina. So what’s so important this time around? Apparently, it’s The ______Act of____.

Yes, The ______Act of____.

It appears that our friendly Senators were in such a rush to get this bill through that they forgot to name it. Jim Harper noticed this when the bill showed up as the oddly named The XXXXXXAct ofXXXX on his always excellent WashingtonWatch site. Apparently, the Library of Congress’ Thomas reporting system converted the underscores into X’s. And, yes, even The Congressional Record (pdf) notes that “This Act may be cited as the “_______Act of______”.

And don’t think the House can easily change it, either. If it changes the name of the bill, the Senate would have to come back and vote again. In the meantime, what is the bill? Well, it’s actually been quite a moving target. It was originally about taxing executives who received TARP funds. Then it was changed entirely to have something to do with aviation, and now it’s about an Education Jobs Fund. At one point, prior to its current non-name, it was called “The Aviation Safety and Investment Act of 2010,” but that’s got nothing to do with what it is now. If you look at WashingtonWatch’s own summary of the bill, it still says the bill “would impose an additional tax on bonuses received from certain TARP recipients,” even though I don’t believe that’s in the bill any more. As Harper notes in a different blog post, since this bill (by number only) is listed on the White House’s pending legislation page, anyone tracking that bill might think Obama is about to sign into a law a bill (which hasn’t been approved by Congress) about taxing TARP bonuses… despite that not even being close to true.

I honestly have no idea if the specific details of this bill, requiring the mad dash back to DC for House Members is a good thing or not. And I don’t know whether the taxes on TARP recipients or the Aviation Safety efforts were important as well. But all of this demonstrates a few key points: (1) if you’re trying to follow what Congress is doing by following bills, the fact that they just swap stuff in and out can make that pretty difficult. (2) For a bill that’s deemed so damn important, wouldn’t you think that at least someone involved with it would have taken the time to give it a name? Or were they really in such a rush to approve it that it didn’t need a name?

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Comments on “Congress About To Pass 'The ______Act of____' (These Are The People We Elect?)”

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62 Comments
tracker1 (profile) says:

Re: How about...

I’ve actually thought it would have been nice if the original constitution required that congressmen had to be present for an oral reading of a bill on the floor before being able to vote on it… that would have had a natural effect of reducing legislation, or they’d have to hire the Micro Machines guy.

Walt says:

Re: How about...

That always sounds good, clear honest statement in plain English.

But, in fact, that isn’t what you want in a bill. You want it written in clear, specific, legal terms – something the average lawyer can understand, and all lawyers, upon reading it, can agree on what it means.

Legal terms are a precise and specific vocabulary, and they need to be used for legal purposes.

Just like you have to use proper syntax in a programming language for the computer to understand it, the “programming language” for the legal system is the set of legal terms, and they need to be used, clearly and consistently, in laws.

Shayne says:

Re: How about...

Lobo, thats actually not a bad idea. Many european countries and australian states have policies now that all laws should be fully understandable by non-lawyers, and have programs of reviewing old laws with a view to rewrite old ones that are considered arcane and latin-heavy. It works really well, permits non lawyers to get involved with politics, and helps people avoid accidently breaking the laws. And naturally it helps avoid this sort of shenanigans.

Ryan says:

Just doing what they were elected to do

Isn’t this what a great portion of our idiot electorate is always asking for – that Congress “gets things done”? That voting against a bill or insisting on actually debating its merits is merely obstructing progress for political points? I mean, who cares whether the bill is Constitutional or good for the country or, shit, even has the name filled in?

zota says:

Re: Bill shortage

You were probably being sarcastic about the shortage of bills, but actually yes, there is a huge shortage of legislation moving through Congress right now.

I’m not sure of you’ve heard of this thing: Republicans in the Senate? Apparently they just realized that the Senate has mostly run on traditional adherence to reasonable practices.. which is for LOSERS! How about some blind holds on everything!

So yeah, there’s actually an extremely good reason people are scrambling to get any bill through, even if it’s something reasonable and necessary, like taxing the bonuses of TARP millionaires.

But who cares! It’s way more fun to make “Congress so dumb” jokes, amirite! Congress stupid hurr durr!!

zota says:

Re: Re: Re: If you think your representative is stupid...

75% of Americans do not know how many votes it takes to break a filibuster.
http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=951

Yes, many members of Congress are barely functioning idiots. But they’re representatives. If you are represented by an idiot, you, my friend are an idiot.

And if you complain that bills must be passed in ridiculous ways without acknowledging WHY they must be passed in this way, you are far worse than an idiot. You are a puppet, squatting on the fist of a propagandist. Enjoy the ride.

Mike says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If you think your representative is stupid...

Do you really believe that the representastives we have in Congress represent the people of their district? They are professional politicians. It takes so much money to get elected that few can on board unless they are also a professional politician. Not a dumb working slob such as myself. Until the dollar is taken out of the equation for election, this will never change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hey, TechDirt

Don’t you think it’s irresponsible to assume this bill is something nefarious without first giving it some analysis? All you’ve said is along the lines of, “they called congresspeople back from the August recess to pass it”, and “it’s changed a lot”, and, “they goofed up on the name”. That doesn’t say anything about whether it’s good or bad.

Sarah Natividad (user link) says:

Re: Hey, TechDirt

You fail to grasp the gravity of this situation. It’s bad enough that Congress has been passing vague laws and handing them off to the executive branch for years’ worth of byzantine rule-making required to make Congress’ ill-informed wishes happen. And it’s also unfortunate that they have figured out how to hide stuff from the American people and from each other by swapping out thousands of pages of bill text less than 24 hours before passage. If they can pass a law that doesn’t even have a name and changes content radically, they can conceal it from even the most eagle-eyed watchers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Hey, TechDirt

You fail to grasp that if you had been following the Washington press you’d have known this was going to happen for more than a week. That is when I first heard that Pelosi was planning to rush through a stimulus to state budgets during the August recess. Parliamentary maneuvers to unblock a deadlocked congress, nothing more…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hey, TechDirt

By the way, since posting this I looked into it. This is the stimulus to the states that Dems have been talking about for some time. Because Republicans have been blocking everything in congress, the Dems have to use weird parliamentary tactics (like calling folks in during the August recess) to get anything done. Seriously, look into this more if you don’t believe me. GOP votes on most issues, whether or not there is a real ideological debate on them, has vote straight NO for doing anything. They managed to water down the stimulus from 2009 with tax cuts, and the Senators from Maine took out aid to the states which is what this bill is about. If you live in the US chances are you’ve heard in your local news that your state has a budget crisis. This bill is supposed to be a fix for that. The GOP doesn’t want the feds to step in to ameliorate the situation, because they want the economic situtation in November to be as bad as can be for the election. Hence the weird tactics on the part of the Dems to get something worthwhile passed on the economic front.

The way the techdirt summary is phrased is a hatchet job.

OnlyaBill says:

Re: Re: Hey, TechDirt

Now why oh why would I want this bill passed if it is for what you say? Why should my tax dollars go to bailing out yet another group that has managed to spend more money than it takes in? If the states can not affort to maintain all of the verious retirement plans, welfare plans, and entitlement plans, maybe, just maybe they should try cutting their spending instead of crying to the feds to give them more money the feds don’t have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hey, TechDirt

Because you need roads.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/09/opinion/09krugman.html

Also, check out the pie chart here:

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/09/schoolteachers-driving-cadillacs/

Also, try to remember that revenues are down because of massive economic failure. That’s not the fault of the states. And when all those state workers lose their jobs, it has a visible negative impact on the economy. Moreso than if some 1% of wealthy people pay what they paid in the 90s for taxes.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Hey, TechDirt

Don’t you think it’s irresponsible to assume this bill is something nefarious without first giving it some analysis?

I didn’t think it was nefarious.

I made no comment on the quality of the bill at all. In fact, I said: “I honestly have no idea if the specific details of this bill, requiring the mad dash back to DC for House Members is a good thing or not.” This post had nothing to do with the relative merits of the bill. It had to do with the screwed up process by which the bill got to where it is.

I find it highly amusing and ironic that you trash me for not having done enough when you clearly didn’t even read the whole post.

Dylan Wright says:

Re: Re: Hey, TechDirt

Face it Mike Masnick, by writing this post without any knowledge of what WAS in the bill (as you have at least admitted) OR the political reasoning behind such maneuvers (as pointed out in the two anonymous comments above), you have just either been pwnd by the GOP’s PR machine (i.e. see all the similarly ill-informed comments about ‘see how dumb congress is nya-nya’ as evidence of the ignorance you have just confirmed in many readers minds) or are in fact a willing tool (in which case I’m guessing this post will be deleted).

Bummer dude!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hey, TechDirt

Face it Mike Masnick, by writing this post without any knowledge of what WAS in the bill (as you have at least admitted) OR the political reasoning behind such maneuvers (as pointed out in the two anonymous comments above), you have just either been pwnd by the GOP’s PR machine (i.e. see all the similarly ill-informed comments about ‘see how dumb congress is nya-nya’ as evidence of the ignorance you have just confirmed in many readers minds) or are in fact a willing tool (in which case I’m guessing this post will be deleted).

I’m not sure what you mean by that at all. I had no interest in what was specifically in the bill, as that was not the point of the post at all. I made no comment on whether the bill itself was important or good or bad. I simply pointed out the FACTUAL information that the name was missing and that the actual contents of the bill changed repeatedly, leading to confusion on many sites that track this info.

I felt — and still believe — that both of these points are highly problematic, and indicative of a political machine that does not function well.

This site is pretty religiously non-political. I disagree equally with politicians on both sides of the aisle. In fact, we purposely don’t mention the political affiliation of politicians on the site (unless it’s key to the story) in order to avoid political discussions.

So I disagree. You think that what’s in the bill was the point of this post. It was not. The points I made were factual, and important. I don’t see how I was “pwned” by anyone’s PR machine, since this story had nothing to do with any particular political party.

Finally, we don’t delete posts, no matter how critical or wrong they might be. I believe in responding to ignorance with facts.

Dylan Wright says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hey, TechDirt

Mike – my objection is just that: that the content of the bill (and why it was passed in such a manner) were not the subject of your post. To me it seems that you have added almost no information whatsoever, beyond the fact that congress was about to pass a bill with a funny name (and some handwringing over the stupidity of politicians).

But that’s just me being critical and wrong ๐Ÿ˜€

Sarah Natividad (user link) says:

The _____ Act of ____ is so ________!!!

The _____ Act of ____ is a horrible law. It would ______ the entire ______ industry, saddling them with ______, a burden they can’t possibly meet. In addition it would require ___________________, _________, ____________ and, worst of all, _________________. Congressman _______ must be smoking _________ to think this bill is going to help our country at a time like this.

Barbara Wedau says:

nameless bill

Every bill should be written in plain English for the benefit of the American people. No riders should be attached
in order to get it passed. The process of debate is to create an understanding for all those who vote on the content. It may be a slower process however the American people then can understand where their represenatives stand on the subject at hand. Doesn’t that open the door of who they are representing instead of lobbyist and special interest groups

Brian says:

Same thing with technology

There are just too many laws for anyone to grasp. So many blind spots and assumptions, that over time, knowledge becomes lost.

Look at technology – it’s becoming so incredibly complex that people are just choosing to not use it, or they can’t figure it out and it becomes more of a burden than a tool. Programming languages are becoming too complex with C++ as the main language (now that patent troll Oracle took over Sun, I doubt Java will have a bright future).

The people that made most of the laws are dead, and so are their reasons for creating the laws. No one knows why many laws are in place, and if the government can’t come up with a good reason, then the law shouldn’t be there. Unfortunately, no one looks thru and filters out these old laws (otherwise marijuana would be legal by now) which means the legal system is a huge mess.

Don’t you just wish there was a “Reboot” button?

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