Shortly before the final vote for passage of the Affordable Care Act, then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi famously declared, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” How right she was. The surprises keep coming, with more sure to appear as the law continues to unfold and be implemented.
Of course, members of Congress did not read the 2,700 page bill before voting for it. Then House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer candidly admitted, “The health-care reform bill now pending in Congress would garner very few votes if lawmakers actually had to read the entire bill before voting on it.”
Fast forward a decade to the 1,774 page Cromnibus Bill passed by Congress last week. Was it read? Was it debated? No. “With roughly 51 hours left before the government runs out of cash, lawmakers released the text Tuesday night of a massive 289,861 word, $1.013 trillion bill,” according to Roll Call.
What happened to transparency and open discussion? Nancy Pelosi promised, “The Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical congress in history.” So open that we needed to pass a bill to know what’s in it. John Boehner made similar assurances. “One of my first orders of business would be to post every bill online for at least 72 hours before it comes to the floor of the House for a vote.” And, “Americans should have three days to read all bills before Congress votes on them.”
So where was the bill posted online for 72 hours? Which members of Congress actually read the bill? Who could have read it in the few hours between release and vote? For context, The Hobbit, at 95,356 words is about one third the length of the Cromnibus Bill. Yet it was made into three full-length motion pictures, the running time of which far exceed any reasoned debate in Congress over the massive spending bill.
Just as Obamacare is a cornucopia of surprises, Cromnibus has its own share of treats that we couldn’t learn about until the bill passed. Wasn’t the purpose of Cromnibus to avert a government shutdown? ABC News told us “must be passed” to avoid such a fiscal calamity. So it makes perfect sense that the bill would, say, block the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Would legal weed lead to a government shutdown?
What else? The bill will, “Allow truck drivers to work more overnight shifts.” Safety concerns aside, how does that keep the government funded? Not just trucks, but luxury cars too with a sweet provision for Congress; “Each member to spend $1000 of our tax dollars per month on a luxury car allowance.” Since this essential item was hidden on page 982, we didn’t learn about it until the bill passed. Even big insurance got a treat. No longer does Blue Cross Blue Shield have to spend 85 percent of their insurance premium revenue on actual medical claims. Instead they can, “count ‘quality improvement’ spending as part of the medical loss ratio calculation required of them under Obamacare.” And it’s retroactive for four years. So a fancy executive retreat to discuss quality measures counts as spending on medical claims? How transparent.
Republicans won wave elections in 2010 and 2014 as a reaction to an over- reaching, all-powerful government far more interested in crony capitalism and governing against the will of the people than, using Lincoln’s words, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Little did the voters know that their votes in the past two midterm elections were for naught. We went from Nancy Pelosi to John Boehner, from Harry Reid to Mitch McConnell. With a hat tip to The Who, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. We sure got fooled again.
Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician, is an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. Twitter @retinaldoctor.