Good Question #2: Are Bills Too Hard to Read

Elmer's second question comes from a Politico article about the complexity of the healthcare bill. Elmer challenges me to intepret this paragraph, which is part of the Politico story and was supposedly taken from the bill:

(a) Outpatient Hospitals – (1) In General – Section 1833(t)(3)(C)(iv) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395(t)(3)(C)(iv)) is amended – (A) in the first sentence – (i) by inserting “(which is subject to the productivity adjustment described in subclause (II) of such section)” after “1886(b)(3)(B)(iii); and (ii) by inserting “(but not below 0)” after “reduced”; and (B) in the second sentence, by inserting “and which is subject, beginning with 2010 to the productivity adjustment described in section 1886(b)(3)(B)(iii)(II).

It's incomprehensible unless you have a copy of Section 1833 of 42 USC 1395, obviously. (rimshot)

Actually, what's going on here is that we're looking at we're looking at the "legislative language" of the bill. Here's an article that explains the difference. When the committees debate the bill and amendments, they debate a human-readable text that explains what's going on with the bill. Then lawyers translate that to language that amends current law, and we get word salad like the paragraph above.

So, I don't know what that paragraph means. But I'm pretty sure that it was debated in plain language by the appropriate committee before it got translated into legalese.

One thing I do know is that the legislative process has gone on this way for a hell of a long time, it's disingenuous for John Boehner to bitch about it, and a lawyer like Tom Reed is better-equipped to understand it than the average person.


"It's incomprehensible unless you have a copy of Section 1833 of 42 USC 1395, obviously" and apparently you also need a copy of Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395(t)(3)(C)(iv) and and a copy of section 1886(b)(3)(B)(iii)(II) - pretty heavy reading for only one paragraph out of a 2,000 page document. But hey, maybe I'm just slow.

Yeah, I was trying to make a joke -- it's totally incomprehensible unless you have 5 or 6 law volumes.

I just think it's silly for John Boehner to all of a sudden care that we have tough-to-read legistlation.

But the point is, and probably always has been, how can you expect a member of congress to truly understand this crap? It is especially important with health care.

What is viewed by Congress people is in all likelihood a marked up version - changed sections highlighted by bars in the margins, old text crossed out, new text underlined, etc.

These have been standard features of word processing software for a long time.

I don't buy it - my guess is that all too many of our congressional reps have no idea what it all really means

I'll agree with that, but they do have staffs with specialists in different issue areas. And Congress has been passing multi-thousand page legislation for years and we've survived.

Then maybe we should know a little bit about their staffs. Can you report on the people translating this stuff for Eric?

I don't know his DC staff.

I'm hoping to make it to the next press conference -- if I do, I'll ask about this, because it is an interesting topic.

Thank you

Bunning of KY wanted the Baucus committee to postpone discussion of their health bill until the bill was put into legislative language.
Do you imagine that he could have made sense of it?
Instead they did what that committee always does, debate the issues in English and then give their decisions to staff to be put into legal language.

Being surprised by the result is like suggesting that a bill is better just because it is several pages long instead in 1000 pages long.
The Boehner health care proposal was shorter because it did not do anything useful.

A short English language bill hands the writing (or interpretation) of the bill over to the courts.

The recent proposal that was best at being short and comprehensible was Paulson's proposal to shore up financial markets:
Congress would give him vast amounts of money and he only would decide how it would be spent and his decisions would be final,
no court or other officer of the government could countermand his decisions.
The only good thing that I can think to say about the proposal is that he may have meet the other members of the Bush administration and knew better than to let them get involved.

Why is it now that Politico and friends are raising the issue of legislative language? Where have they been for the last eight years, or 30?