With Congressional Republicans barreling toward a last-minute vote (again) on repealing Obamacare, the perennial question is ricocheting around DC: What’s in their bill, and what does it mean? I say perennial because it seems this way every time major legislation is under consideration. For all the endless chatter of partisans and pundits, finding out the precise intent of any new measure takes detective work. Why?
First, running a country is not like playing Skee-Ball. The rules are complicated. New legislation – especially for something as far-reaching as healthcare – is almost always going to be dense and somewhat inscrutable even if you try to make it simple.
Second, it’s a process. All that wheeling and dealing you always hear about typically goes on until shortly before the vote.
Third, there is a lot of interpretation involved. For example, the words “adequate and affordable” have become a battleground around the issue of insurance for pre-existing conditions because – well, what’s affordable to a rich person is not necessarily affordable to her Uber driver.
And fourth, I think there is compelling evidence to suggest lawmakers in both parties don’t actually want voters to know what they are voting on. Hear me out. In this day and time, it would be easy to post any proposed legislation front and center on the internet … along with a comprehensive breakdown of costs, benefits and long-term prospects. Each change could be tracked and attributed to the person who made it. And lawmakers could agree that the entire, finalized text would be available for at least a month before the vote – so voters would know exactly what was being pushed, who was pushing it and who was for or against it.
But that would bring a degree of accountability, which an awful lot of DC insiders fear more than the clown from “It.” So we are where we are, and where I suspect we will be many times again no matter which party is in power: trying to speed read our way through an unbelievably Byzantine plan in what seems like minutes – even though it could affect many of us for years, if not decades.