Remember the 2008 bailout bill? The one that provided gargantuan loans to all the major Wall Street banks that ruined themselves after money-cataracts clouded their otherwise brilliant capitalistic vision?
Way back when the U.S. government decided, “Hey, while we’re on the subject of nonstop talk about threats of Socialism, let’s socialize our banks!”
And then we were like, “Oh, um… okay! As long as you’re sure it’ll… trickle down to the rest of us!”
And then we felt something trickle down, but instead of the promised prosperity it was mostly just bankers metaphorically golden-showering us in fraudulent loans and subsequent surprise foreclosures? Remember?
Yeah, that was weird. But regardless of how you feel about the bailout bill, one question is worth asking. How did it get there in the first place? What did this emergency bailout look like before it became law?
It looked like the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equality Act of 2007.
This bill, originally, would require insurers offering mental health services to offer them to the same extent as their regular health services. A great victory for our doctors and our patients! How could anyone say no?
And as times grew tougher, what better bill than this shining star to append a $700 billion bailout to help struggling banks? Mental health, and $700 billion for banks. It all makes perfect sense, as long as you lack the former of those things.
But surely everyone knew about the bailouts when they were happening. This was all over the news! So let’s see the top comment for this bill on opencongress.org:
“Thank goodness this has passed the House! It’s a shame that our country has not recognized at least one basic truth: Mental and physical health are NOT mutually exclusive! I am a psychologist who works with children…”
Okay, so one internet psychologist didn’t realize what this bill had actually become about. So what? I’m sure we can find a shoutout to the bailout in the next comment.
I am disappointed with your decision on HR-1424, however, look forward to your support in establishing a working format that will help our citizens in need and reduce our tax burden…”
Okay, so this guy thought he was writing to his congressman (and wants a job.) But he’s disappointed! Oh, wait…
“… tax burden that supports the cronic [sic] emergency services they required here in California. I understand your need the follow our party’s line and to vote with the majority of our side of the aisle.”
So his congressman voted AGAINST the bailout. And that disappointed him, because it looked to him like his congressman voted against mental health.
Okay, so maybe we have a problem. The House is supposed to keep everything open, but it seems they’ve found a way to pass legislation that we can’t see, right before our eyes. But how?
They’re called riders, and they’re the legislative equivalent to my high school practice of replacing the cover to The Alphabet of Manliness with a teen devotional book jacket so my parents would stop trying to throw it away. Dishonest? Yes. Awesome? Yes.
But it’s not so awesome when the people who claim to represent you purposely make proposed legislation that’s 1,000 pages long and contains 700 different items, 600 of which are totally fine and boring.
When I read all 926 pages of this year’s recently-amended National Defense Authorization Act, I didn’t do it for that radical high you get when you read excessively worded legislation. I did it to find the part everyone was talking about, which calls for indefinite detention of terror suspects, and whose vague wording might make that section applicable to American citizens who are just hanging out in their Americaland.
On the way to this fantastical promised section, I read roughly billions of absolutely uninteresting provisions — mostly about the military. Like the one half a page long clarifying that the anesthesia needs of pregnant women in military families overseas would be covered in the event of a C-section. Great! That’s important! Thanks for clearing that up.
By page 600 or so, I realized that legislators don’t even read these things. Legislators don’t make bills to create helpful laws anymore. Legislators hire boring people to write excessively boring bills so they can hide special treats for their campaign donors in them. And then before you know it, Jack Abramoff gets caught building an illegal casino in Texas and learns how to write awful memoirs during a short stint in prison.
Riders are those special treats, and they’re so legal that it makes me enjoy living a little bit less. So as always, I went to Wikipedia to help me make sense of this world:
“The use of riders is prevalent and customary in the Congress of the United States, as there are no legal or other limitations on their use.
Riders are most effective when attached to an important bill, such as an appropriation bill, because to veto or postpone such a bill could delay funding to governmental programs, causing serious problems.”
OH GOOD. Unlimited treats for the guys who hook us up at election time. Most effective when attached to a bill that would make you look like a DICK for voting against, like the Adorable Puppies Act of 2008, or Herman Cain’s inevitable Pizza Friday bill. You can’t vote down Pizza Fridays, man.
“Riders are often completely irrelevant to the bill they are attached and are commonly used to introduce unpopular provisions. These tend to have negative implications for freedom and civil liberties but are nevertheless passed due to the amount of support behind the original bill. For example a rider to stop net neutrality was attached to a bill relating to military and veteran construction projects.”
Since none of Wikipedia’s astoundingly fast-acting Aspergists (they remove my dead minor-celebrity pranks in under two minutes EVERY TIME) have cited this section for references yet, I have to assume that the above is factual. And that sucks so much.
So if nobody in the House is reading these bills entirely, and since the guy writing them clearly possesses so little humanity that nobody else wants to — what the hell are we passing? And how are we supposed to catch all of these riders, and convince the media to report on them so either side can’t be constantly berated for voting down a bill for its few questionable stipulations?
Is it worth passing a bill to extend much-needed payroll tax cuts to Americans if it’s inseparably attached to an agreement to build a barely-studied oil pipeline as a hookup for your top oil guy? NO. No it’s not. Oil pipelines leak ALL THE TIME, and we KEEP PUTTING THEM RIGHT NEXT TO WATER SUPPLIES. Ask the thousands of people who can LIGHT THEIR TAP WATER ON FIRE if this sounds like a problem. “Yes, yes it does,” they’d probably say.
Unfortunately, our legislators don’t like to ask us much of anything, and really only seem to want us around when it’s voting season. Thanks, guys. You’re really cool and everybody really likes you, even if your approval rating is lower than that of terminal brain cancer.
For the longest time, I believed that these “riders” had to be illegal. But then I remembered that my naive, child-like mind doesn’t know any better than to append common sense to the law. Riders are a tool meant to be used AGAINST the people.
Riders are dumb. Riders are bad. Riders should go away. Just imagine a world where proposed legislation had to stay on topic, and every bill introduction didn’t have to end with, “… and for other purposes.” We’ll get there. Let’s get on that. We’ve already stabbed congressional insider trading in the face (legislation outlawing that suddenly appeared after the ZeroHedge expose went public. Keep ignoring independent media, and we’ll keep ruining your vacation plans. ;))
That’s all I got, but remember you can always count on me to make your day a little worse by bringing you the 411 on terrible things you’ve never heard of.
What I did today: The Grover Norquist Rap
Despite some occasional obloquy, I love America. I used to not be so sure, so I left, stayed away for a while, and when I came back I was certain. We may have our share of problems, but with due consideration to our industrious background and a Constitution that dozens of countries have worked to imitate, we’ve got a lot to work with when it comes to solving those problems.
It’s easy to tell our foreign friends all about where our nation’s gone wrong, and how disenfranchised its people have become. But the next time you’re asked to list your grievances, whether to a friend, colleague, or independent news network, remember this: Americans can fix all of it, if we choose to.
If there’s a law on the books that just isn’t right, or a Wall Street honcho who deserves a swift conviction, it’s a journalist’s job to bring the issue to light. But there’s one more step that many miss, and it could be just as important as the information itself. We need to explain what to do next, or we’ll be faced with a nation overwhelmed with despair in its government. And if we don’t explain, as the experts on this information, what can be done to fix the problem, the people will attempt to take matters into their own hands based on the summary of information they’ve been given. And that can be tragic.
“It won’t work,” your readers will tell you. But you know it will, because it has before. Because information is easier to explain when its roots are well understood, journalists often find themselves moonlighting as impromptu historians of whatever topic they cover. Want to cover the National Defense Authorization Act? Then you have to know what it is, when it began, and what it’s meant to do before you can explain why a clause in one particular version is a huge deal. Otherwise, the writer and all of his readers will take the streets shouting “NO NDAA!” while Washington shakes its head and says, “It’s just the name of a budget.”
The people must be educated, not inundated. And that’s our job.
Two days ago, President Obama chose a very interesting nominee for the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mary Jo White first gained recognition as the first female US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. As a DA, she was tough as nails on criminals from mafia men to alleged terrorists. Then, in 2002, she took the leap to the better-paying private sector, as many attorneys do. Her biggest clients? Bank of America and JP Morgan. Free from her chains of public servitude, she was able to navigate her too-big-to-fail clients out of the way of any and all investigation into the lending and underwriting practices that led to the 2007 financial meltdown. During her tenure at Debvoise & Plimpton, the firm which represented the banks, White used her federal prowess to ensure that several cases filed by the SEC against her clients were either dropped, or stalled until they expired.
The “fox guarding the henhouse” is nothing new for federal regulatory agencies, but while President Obama’s emerging picks for his new cabinet come under fire from both sides of the aisle, this is the most obviously alarming.
The Senate, of course, can choose to deny her this seat. As it stands, she’s just a nominee, and her Senate Confirmation hearings may bring new light to what we already know. But according to the New York Times, “When it comes to cabinet-level nominees, it’s extremely unusual for the Senate to reject anyone. In its history, the Senate has confirmed over 500 cabinet nominations and only denied nine.” That’s a 98.2 percent approval rate.
As journalists, we can’t stop here. The people know, so now what? This is the point where most popular media outlets are too afraid of looking like Raw Story to end with a call-to-action.
Our readers should call their senators, and so should we. If Mary Jo White’s best defense is her admittedly stunning prosecution record pre-2002, her past ten years make an easy case for her denial as head of the commission she worked for 10 years to mislead. White may be tough on crime, but if financial crime doesn’t count, the SEC is not the right place for her, and our senators need to know that. Public opinion does count for Senators, because ignoring us hurts their job security tremendously. So tell them we care, and do your best to tell your readers what to do if they care, too. Let’s start a trend of action that solves these problems we love to hate.