Thursday, February 09, 2006

Government: The Angel in the Details

Recently, President Bush signed the budget reconciliation bill that cuts Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and other social programs. Many other vital programs haven't been increased for 5 years or longer, essentially being cut 2-4% a year by inflation.

Well it turns out that not only are Republicans cruel and heartless, they also don't know how to work a photocopy machine...

A typo in the budget-reconciliation bill may give congressional Democrats another shot at making political hay out of the $39 billion deficit-reduction measure President Bush signed yesterday.

Democratic leaders could block an attempt by Republicans to correct the clerical error and use the fight to highlight their fierce opposition to the legislation, which includes spending reductions in healthcare, education and other programs.


Democratic objections could force both the House and Senate to vote on the measure yet again, though some sources on Capitol Hill said at press time that they expect another vote on a narrow part of the bill -— not the entire measure.


At issue is a widely supported provision that was intended to allow Medicare beneficiaries to purchase oxygen devices used in the home rather than pay endless rental fees. Because of a clerical error made during the enrollment of the bill, the new policy would apply to practically all medical equipment, congressional aides explained.


Democrats have long complained that House Republicans move legislation to the floor quickly -— so quickly that it is impossible to members to read the entire bill before voting.

A more accurate criticism would be that a very small number Republicans and lobbyists spend months behind closed doors writing legislation that is hundreds of pages long, and then move it to committee.

The committee loads it up with amendments to grease the wheels, and then move it to the floor for a vote.

Any differences between the House and Senate versions are reconciled by the Republican leadership, and not by a joint committee of members appointed from the originating committees of both chambers, as required by law. (It still meets, but its just a rubber stamp).

The bill is then quickly moved back to the floor of each chamber for a final vote, even though just a very few exclusively Republican members have read the final version at that point. They whip their members to support the President/party/war, and it passes by the slimmest of margins.

Try explaining that in a School House Rocks cartoon!

Costume recycled from last week's
"The Dangers of Whacky Weed" Performance

Final versions of the law aren't even available to staff (like me, who are supposed to read and analyze it for policy content and errors) or online to the public until days or weeks after its been voted on. The democratic process does not function inside the Capitol.

I think we should just leave the provision as it is and ask the President to sign the correct version. Why shouldn't seniors be able to purchase any medical equipment they need under Medicare?


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