The media conversation last week on HR 847 demonstrated the problem with current politics: right-leaning talking heads ("commentators") without any knowledge at all of the bill, which makes it seem like the bill in current form is okay. However, the media reports of the Republican "poison pill" on illegal immigrants presented a part of the truth, but not the depth of HR 847's problems.
The bill and its evolution are available at:
The history of this bill demonstrates why the public is cynical about the two parties:
The bill was introduced at 70 pages, 18,737 words. Actually, there was a 50-page version that was strong enough to survive unanimous consent and a quick voice vote, but that bill did not leave committee.
The bill voted on was 222-pages, 37,500 words, and had been expanded to fit the needs of several major NYC donors to campaigns. So, while there was no pork in the bill, there certainly were changes made to aid specific groups. Among those likely to be spared legal expenses were construction companies involved in both the original and new Trade Center complex. These donors are: Plaza Construction Corporation, Bovis Lend Lease, Tully Construction, AMEC Construction Management, and Turner Construction Company.
Sec. 205 deals with legal fees. Again, the bill changes current limits, including caps on direct compensation and expenses, removing them entirely. Lifting these caps was done after the initial bill was introduced and followed donations from several law firms to various representatives. Section 202 lifts restrictions on lawsuits by those already accepting settlements and waives various limitations that were in place. (Maybe this is right, maybe not, but it did not appear in the original text of the bill.)
The Medicare changes, raising caps to 140 percent of reimbursement are convoluted and difficult to actually calculate. Sec 3001 of the HR 847 sets many waivers, additions, and changes to reimbursement programs. This might be reasonable, but the bill ends up affecting 19 existing programs, possibly a half-dozen block grants, and changing state and local payment ratios. No one knows the exact cost -- but it is reasonable to ask what New York state and New York City can afford without a clear promise of federal support.
In summary, this bill should have been the 50-page original. Sadly, all legislation seems to follow this path over the last six to eight years, with page counts increasing dramatically over that time for average legislation.
In no way am I suggesting that Republicans were right to offer an incredibly tainted amendment on immigration. The hypocrisy and blatant political desire to create wedge issues is disgusting. Worse, I'm sure this bill would have sailed through even at 222 pages in less contentious times.
Why is that worse? Because this bill reveals why Americans have lost faith in politicians: at least 150 pages were bought and paid for by corporate and legal special interests. Reading the bill is a challenge, since one has to untangle who is being helped and how, but it is clear that the developers and lawyers did quite well.
This bill is, sadly, typical of recent legislation. As an example, we now have Democrats leading the charge to repeal sections of the health care reform legislation on 1099 reporting by small business -- before Republicans can use that provision in ads. Things are being "slipstreamed" into bills that majorities in both parties do not want or seek, so we must ask how this is happening with increasing frequency. (Slipstreaming dramatically increased during the Bush presidency's early years, but has accelerated in the last four years.)
The public should be aware that great and reasonable bills, like HR 847, are being ruined by both parties.