How a Bill Becomes a Law: Pass It, Find Out What's In It, Then Fix It


Great, snappy Megan McArdle on the idea that Congress should pass a flawed health care bill and then amend it later:

If we pass this thing, no American politician, left or right, is going to cut any of these programs, or raise the broad-based taxes necessary to pay for them, without any compensating goodies to offer the public…until the crisis is almost upon us. I can think of no situation, other than impending crisis, in which such a thing has been done–and usually, as with Social Security, they have done just little enough to kick the problem down the road.  The idea that you pass a program of dubious sustainability because you can always make it sustainable later, seems borderline insane.  I can't think of a single major entitlement that has become more sustainable over time.  Why is this one supposed to be different?

The whole pass-then-fix plan is weirdly reminiscent of presidential adviser David Axelrod's infamous line on ABC's This Week back in January:

"People will never know what's in that bill until we pass it."

It's funny, I don't remember any of this from How a Bill Becomes a Law:

I also must have missed that follow-up Schoolhouse Rock hit, "The Slaughter Rule."

NEXT: Blunting the Blunt Menace

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  1. The idea that you pass a program of dubious sustainability because you can always make it sustainable later, seems borderline insane. I can’t think of a single major entitlement that has become more sustainable over time. Why is this one supposed to be different?


  2. I have a question:

    How does the Senate bill, unamended, not find its way to Obama’s desk?

    The House can either

    (a) Pass the Senate bill, and then pass a separate fix-it bill, in which case the Senate bill is enrolled and ready to be signed regardless of what happens to the fix-it bill.

    (b) Pass the deem-and-pass resolution, which only works if you pretend that the “deem” part of it (deeming the Senate bill adopted by the House) works just as if the Senate bill was passed separately by the House. In which case you are back to (a).

    IOW, if all goes as planned by the Dems, the Senate bill will be fully passed and ready to sign by the Prez on Sunday.

    Can you imagine a situation where the Dem Congress refuses to send the Senate bill to the Prez for signature while the amendment is being thrashed out in the Senate (and possibly the House again)?

    Can you imagine the Dem Congress refusing to send an enrolled health care bill to the Prez if the fix-it bill fails?

    Finally, last I heard from the Senate parliamentarian, the fix-it bill won’t be “in order” for Senate consideration until the Senate bill it amends is actually passed.

    1. Oops. That should be “until the Senate bill it amends is actually signed into law by the President”.

    2. How does the Senate bill, unamended, not find its way to Obama’s desk?

      Correct. This is part of the heart of the “can you really trust the Senate and the President?” argument made towards wavering House Democrats who only want the Senate bill with amendments.

  3. I have another question:

    How does deem-and-pass not provoke a Constitutional crisis?

    The use of deem-and-pass will result in at least two legal challenges that I know of. Possible outcomes:

    (1) The courts rule that it is non-justiciable, IOW, that there is no remedy for Congress violating the Constitution when “enacting” legislation.

    (2) The courts rule that no one has standing, IOW, that there is no remedy for Congress violating the Constitution when “enacting” legislation.

    (4) The courts issue an injunction pending resolution of the case, either ordering Congress not to send the legislation or the President not to sign it.

    (5) The courts overturn the most important single piece of legislation since the New Deal.

    Even if the courts (a) give standing to someone to challenge the Congressional procedure (b) rule that this is justiciable (c) uphold deem and pass on the merits (close enough for Congressional work), well, (a) and (b) might well constitute a mini-crisis of their own.

    1. What the courts would be deciding in this issue would be purely procedural.

      People who would have standing would be those who violated the mandates.

      I suspect that the one possible remedy would be to overturn the law and require Congress to vote on it.

  4. I figure the ultimate devolution of the Federal legislative process will be the leadership showing a few PowerPoint slides giving the gist of their idea, breaking the legislators into Delphi discussion groups each with a group leader appointed by the leadership, then having some lobbyists and interns write the actual bill up for the President to sign.

    1. It would be more entertaining if they just cut the chase and devolve into congressmen competing in roller death ball matches to pass their bills into laws.

    2. I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s done now!!

  5. The Federal legislative process is having some lobbyists and interns write the actual bill up for the President to sign. The other shit that happens is just the world’s worst-made cable access show.

  6. This could actually be win-win.

    1. Dems pass the bill via Slaughter.
    2. Opponents sue to overturn the bill, and gets a stay of eneactment while being decided.
    3. Court hears arguments in next session, when Republicans have regained control of at least one of the houses.
    4. Court overturns the law and kicks it back for a new vote.
    5. New congressional make up votes down the bill on party lines.
    6. Profit.

    1. Or the Court, appalled at the implications, decides to recognize the limits of the Commerce Clause again and says, “Dudes, you don’t have the power to do anything like this.”

      1. Oh, ProL, you silly optimist.

        1. I don’t expect it to happen, but oh, would that make me happy.

    2. 4. Court says that each House is the judge of its own rules (yes, it’s right there in the Constitution) and dismisses the suit.

      No way the court sticks its nose in when it can get away with a plausible argument that it’s a political issue, not a constitutional one.

  7. No problem with the Senate Parliamentarian. They’ll just fire him (her?), as the Republicans did when they didn’t get the answer they wanted back in 2005.

    1. Well, you know, you gotta do what your gotta do.

      Though I do wonder what the point of having a Parliamentarian is if he can be replaced in mid-process.

    2. The Parliamentarian is an advisor to the president of the Senate, ie Biden. He or she has no authority and can be overruled by the VP without being replaced.

  8. Life in cartoons is always deceptively simple.

    Bill, you better pray, because a lot of Americans want you dead.

    1. You and I have unfinished business.

  9. “People will never know what’s in that bill until we pass it.”

    Just like a White Castle hamburger!

    1. Russ 2000, when you do pass it, J sub D has a new use for it.…..nt_1617394

    2. Do you know why a White Castle burger has 5 holes?

      That’s how many shots it took to kill the rat…

  10. I hate them. I fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking hate the dirty fucking parasites. Hate them. Fuck them.

    I want to see violent protests. No, of course I wouldn’t participate in them – because I’m a 45 year old mom and my husband would have a stroke if I went out and threw rocks in the street (seriously – dude is suddenly having visual migraines and won’t call the doctor.)

    But I want to see elected representatives who went along with this fucking travesty physically threatened. I want them to feel unsafe outside their offices. I want a 1000 Rostankowski moments. I don’t want any of them actually hurt, but I want to read reports of them crapping their pants. I want to see them on TV, terror in their eyes, two months from now when the anger has not abated and when they realized that they have monumentally fucked their careers and Pelosi and Reid and Obama don’t care.

    I want the Republicans in Congress to make every single day that Congress is in a session a very, very bad day.

    And I want to hear people I know who voted for Obama wailing when they realize that their health insurance is more expensive, their doctor is not available, and they can’t buy Grandma the heart meds she needs.

    Fuck them. Fuck. Them.

    1. Hear! Hear!

    2. I’d pay a dollar to see that.

    3. Rockin’, stubby.

    4. I want them to succeed and make heath care more available to everyone at substantially lower cost than the previous system provided, without hurting medical innovation or taking away patient choice.

      I don’t think that there’s a chance in hell of that happening, but I don’t see much point in hoping for terrible, widespread human tragedy given that (a) disaster doesn’t need my help, and (b) I have to suffer through it too.

      1. I want them to succeed too and I hope that it does meet any challenges head-on


        1. Well then, if you jump off a building hoping you can defy gravity I want you to succeed also (but I wouldn’t put money on it)

    5. I like the way you think Stubby! I just have one question for you or for anyone for that matter. If, healthcare as we know it now was too expensive before this f@&%ng bill was passed, what makes it an economically feasible choice for all 30M UN-insured Americans now that we will be unconstitionally coerced to purchase it OR risk being fined by the IRS. Did the Nancy “VOICE OF TREASON” Pelosi cover that issue.

  11. The whole thing is so stupid. Apparently the 6 Congressional brain cells have escaped to the other side of the Beltway.

    The thing that bothers me so badly is that through all these months of debate, not even ONCE have I heard the argument (from either side) that, “It’s what my constituents want.”

    The lot of them needs to be destroyed.

  12. Why is this one supposed to be different?

    Because the Right People are in charge?


  13. Apparently Stupak got the Stupak language put back in. They’re having a meltdown at Firedog Lake.

  14. Great, snappy Megan McArdle

    What the.

  15. The ambiguity in poorly drafted laws create business for lawyers. I often wonder if it is intentional.

  16. I agree with this post. I see no point in pushing this bill through if it is not ready. They should have the best possible bill for the current situations. Amendments are for changes in the situation not the bill. Youtube Converter

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