Incomprehensible Legislative Language = Impossible Democracy
Finance Committee Democrat Won’t Read Text of Health Bill, Says Anyone Who Claims They’ll Understand It ‘Is Trying to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes’
Friday, October 02, 2009
By Nicholas Ballasy, Video Reporter
(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Thomas Carper (D.-Del.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, told CNSNews.com that he does not “expect” to read the actual legislative language of the committee’s health care bill because it is “confusing” and that anyone who claims they are going to read it and understand it is fooling people.
“I don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because reading the legislative language is among the more confusing things I’ve ever read in my life,” Carper told CNSNews.com.
Carper described the type of language the actual text of the bill would finally be drafted in as "arcane," "confusing," "hard stuff to understand," and "incomprehensible." He likened it to the "gibberish" used in credit card disclosure forms.
Last week, the Finance Committee considered an amendment offered by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) that would have required the committee to post the full actual language of the proposed legislation online for at least 72 hours before holding a final committee vote on it. The committee defeated the amendment 13-10.
Sometime in the wee hours of this morning, according to the Associated Press, the Finance Committee finished work on its health-care bill. "It was past 2 a.m. in the East--and Obama's top health care adviser, Nancy-Ann DeParle in attendance--when Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the committee chairman, announced that work had been completed on all sections of the legislation," said the AP.
Thus far, however, the committee has not produced the actual legislative text of the bill. Instead the senators have been working with “conceptual language”—or what some committee members call a “plain English” summary or description of the bill.
Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who sits on the committee, told CNSNews.com on Thursday that the panel was just following its standard practice in working with a “plain language description” of the bill rather than an actual legislative text.
“It’s not just conceptual, it’s a plain language description of the various provisions of the bill is what the Senate Finance Committee has always done when it passes legislation and that is turned into legislative language which is what is presented to the full Senate for consideration,” said Bingaman.
But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who also serves on the committee, said the descriptive language the committee is working with is not good enough because things can get slipped into the legislation unseen.
“The conceptual language is not good enough,” said Cornyn. “We’ve seen that there are side deals that have been cut, for example, with some special interest groups like the hospital association to hold them harmless from certain cuts that would impact how the CBO scores the bill or determines cost. So we need to know not only the conceptual language, we need to know the detailed legislative language, and we need to know what kind of secret deals have been cut on the side which would have an impact on how much this bill is going to cost and how it will affect health care in America.”
Carper said he would "probably" read the "plain English version" of the bill as opposed to the actual text.
In a Thursday afternoon interview outside the hearing room where the Finance Committee was debating the final amendments to the still-unseen bill, Carper explained why he believes it would be useless for both members of the public and members of the Senate to read the bill’s actual text.
Committee members did not have a “clue,” he said, when one senator recently read them an example of some actual legislative language. When you look at the legislative language, he said, “it really doesn’t make much sense.”
“When you get into the legislative language, Senator Conrad actually read some of it, several pages of it, the other day and I don’t think anybody had a clue--including people who have served on this committee for decades--what he was talking about,” said Carper. “So, legislative language is so arcane, so confusing, refers to other parts of the code—‘and after the first syllable insert the word X’--and it’s just, it really doesn’t make much sense.”
Carper questioned whether anybody could read the actual legislative text and credibly claim to understand it.
If this bill became law, it would mandate dramatic changes in the
“So the idea of reading the plain English version: Yeah, I’ll probably do that,” said Carper. “The idea of reading the legislative language: It’s just anyone who says that they can do that and actually get much out of it is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.”
Carper compared the full legislative language of the bill to credit card disclosure documents that he described as “gibberish,” meaning that “you can’t read it and really know what it says.”
When asked if Republican members of the committee should have a chance to read the full text of the bill if they believe they are capable of understanding it, Carper suggested Republicans would only pretend to understand the bill when in fact they would not understand it.
“They might say that they’re reading it. They might say that they’re understanding it,” said Carper. “But that would probably be the triumph of man’s hope over experience. It’s hard stuff to understand.”
Carper said if Americans were given the chance to read the actual text of the bill he believes they would decide that it made little sense for either them—or members of Congress—to read such texts because of the difficulty in understanding them.
“I think if people had the chance to read that they’ll say you know maybe it doesn’t make much sense for either the legislators or me to read that kind of arcane language,” said Carper. “It’s just hard to decipher what it really means.”
CNSNews.com correspondent Edwin Mora contributed to this report.
Here is a full transcript of the CNSNews.com interview with Sen. Tom Carper (D.-Del.):
Nicholas Ballasy, CNSNews.com: I wanted to ask you if you plan, if you’re going, to read the entire actual text of the health care bill before the committee votes on it.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.): I don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because reading the legislative language is among the more confusing things I’ve ever read in my life. We, we write in this committee and legislate with plain English and I think most of us can understand most of that. When you get into the legislative language, Senator Conrad actually read some of it, several pages of it, the other day and I don’t think anybody had a clue--including people who have served on this committee for decades--what he was talking about. So, legislative language is so arcane, so confusing, refers to other parts of the code—‘and after the first syllable insert the word X’--and it’s just, it really doesn’t make much sense. So the idea of reading the plain English version: Yeah, I’ll probably do that. The idea of reading the legislative language: It’s just anyone who says that they can do that and actually get much out of it is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.
Ballasy: Do you think--
Carper: But that’s a very good question and I’m glad you asked it, Nicholas.
Ballasy: Do you think Republicans on the committee should be able to read the entire full actual text of the bill?
Carper: I, I--They might say that they’re reading it. They might say that they’re understanding it. But that would probably be the triumph of man’s hope over experience. It’s hard stuff to understand.
Ballasy: And the American people as well--
Carper: I use it to like, for example, credit card disclosures. If you actually read the stuff, you say, you read it and say, like dozens of pages: ‘What does this say?’ And this is one of the reasons why we’ve directed, among others, banks to use plain, plain language, plain English to explain what they’re doing, so that the gibberish, you can’t read it and really know what it says.
Ballasy: The American people--do you think they should be able to read the bill online? Some have called for the bill to be online for at least 72 hours. Do you think they should be able to read the entire full actual text?
Carper: If people who work here on a daily basis and work with the legislation and shape the legislation--You know, we are pretty good at understanding the plain English version of the legislation. I think that should be certainly online and made available. The idea of folks--and what we’re, I think we’re doing, on my website is actually giving people an example of what legislative language looks like and how incomprehensible it can be. And I think if people had the chance to read that they’ll say you know maybe it doesn’t make much sense for either the legislators or me to read that kind of arcane language. It’s just hard to decipher what it really means.
Ballasy: Last question for you. If members on the committee, whether it’s Republican or Democrat, want to read the legislative language--if they feel they can understand it--will that language be available? Do you know where that language is? Have you seen any of the language or the full actual text?
Carper: In the time that I’ve spent here, I’ve seen plenty of legislative language and I know more often than not it’s almost incomprehensible as to what it means. Because what you do is you take certain language and you insert it in other parts of the law, other parts of the bill, and it frankly almost defies comprehension in many instances. Why that is a value and why someone should need to read that, or feel the need--I don’t understand. The idea, is actually like, say, I get my credit card disclosure and I have a one or two page summary written in plain English and then I have like 40 or 50 pages written by an attorney or a bunch of attorneys that is almost impossible to understand--Why you would insist on reading the stuff that’s incomprehensible as opposed to the plain English language that’s ordered by law so that people can understand it, that’s beyond me.