I've discussed this topic before, but after Max Baucus announced his health care reform bill this week, I've found myself once more obsessed with an aspect of lawmaking I don't understand. Why is every bill that now emerges from congress a 1000 page plus monster?
The second the Baucus bill was arrived, critics from both the right and left took their knives to it. Everyone could find one provision that they couldn't abide. At the beginning of the year, I was certain that the president would get something out of congress he could call Health Care reform and sign it triumphantly. Now, I'm not so sure. The problem is, all the bills that are getting designed have a core of attractive items in them, but then glom on stuff that seems guaranteed to be opposed by a majority. I suppose the idea is, you use the popular items as leverage to pass the unpopular ones. But, in this case, I'm starting to think that the whole enterprise will crash and burn, and nothing at all is going to pass.
The big bills wind up being almost impossible to explain to the American public. The president can't go on TV and tell us everything that's in a 1000 page bill in a half hour. He might explain five or six popular provisions of a bill, but the second he stops talking critics will jump in to talk about the others and the general public will wind up with the feeling that they are getting sold a pig in a poke. The legislation is so complex, any sane person is going to be suspicious of it. No average citizen with a day job and a personal life is going to be able to sit down and read all the bills to form an opinion on them.
But if the president really wanted the five or six reforms that he most often talks about, couldn't each of these reforms be introduced as a seperate bill? This week, we vote on new rules for recission. Next week, we vote on a program to set up insurance co-ops. The week after, vote on a bill that standardizes insurance application forms. The following week, shoot for a bill that would allow for more portability of insurance between jobs.
Some bills would pass, some would fail. My gut instinct is, you might actually see a return of bipartisanship on the more popular measures. Small, tightly targetted bills would be easier to explain to constituents. The general public wouldn't live with the worry that their lawmakers were trying to hide the truth of what they were attempting to do from them.
If health care reform does eventually fail, it won't be the Republicans or the rabble rousing public that have doomed it. It will be the stupid, pointless complexity of trying to do a hundred things with a single vote.