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Time to Pass Some Bills

June 24, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

In the past few days Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House seem to be taking a new approach to the two biggest issues in Congress – just get a bill passed.

Both climate change and health care have been the subject of months of (mostly) behind-the-scenes negotiations between liberal Democrats and moderates from both parties. There has probably been some undue corporate lobbyist influence, but there has also been a reasonable discussion on the merits of proposals like Rep. Collin Peterson’s [D, MN-7] to have the Agriculture Department oversee the carbon offsets program for farmers and Sen. Kent Conrad’s [D, ND] idea for health care co-ops instead of a public option.

But all of a sudden, with the Independence Day recess approaching, the new attitude seems to be just move forward with passing a bill and make any concessions you have to along the way.

Last week, the climate change bill seemed to be at a stand-still over disagreements between the bill’s sponsors and Agricultural Committee Chairman Peterson. Then, on Monday night, House leaders suddenly posted the bill to the House Rules Committee and scheduled a vote for Friday. They struck a deal with Peterson and gave him all the changes he was seeking. The feeling isn’t that most Democrats are happy because they have struck a good deal, but because they can have a vote on the bill and go home next week to tell their constituents that they have taken action on climate change. Politico:

“We have an agreement, and we’re moving forward on Friday,” Waxman told reporters on Tuesday evening after he and Peterson had met with moderate Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition. “We’re going to pass this bill.”

Something similar is going on with health care. Bloomberg (via Plum Line) is reporting that Rahm Emanuel went to Congress last night to tell Senate Democrats that they should scrap the public option if it helps them create a bipartisan bill:

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met last night at the U.S. Capitol with Senate Democrats and told them Obama is “open to alternatives” to a new government insurance program in order to get legislation overhauling the health-care system to his desk, said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

“His message was, it’s critical that you do this,” Conrad said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana said Emanuel urged the senators to seek Republican support and didn’t discourage them from pursuing the use of non-profit cooperatives, an idea Conrad has proposed.

These are both issues that the vast majority of Americans believe need to be addressed, and quickly. But the simple fact of legislation being passed doesn’t mean the issue has actually been addressed. Legislation might move some policies around and change a few things, but if it’s not done right, it’s not going to solve the real problems that Americans want solved. It could make things worse by locking in policies that for a number of years that don’t amount to any meaningful change.

We’ll see how these bills come out in the end. Bone fide compromise is an essential element of our legislative process, but when the process is corrupted by politicians wanting to just show their constituents something, anything, that they have done on the issues they are being asked about, the overall goal stops being about producing the best legislation possible.

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