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Posted by on Jun 28, 2009 in Politics | 16 comments

House Narrowly Passes Nonexistent Bill

It’s an unfortunate comment on the current state of our democracy that Congress routinely passes bills which virtually none of the members have read. Hope is also rapidly eroding that the White House will actually post all proposed legislation on the web far enough in advance that at least we could read them before they come to a vote. But at a bare minimum, up until now they seemed to at least stick with a policy of having a final copy of the bills in existence so they could have theoretically been read. That quaint, antiquated tradition seems to have drawn to a close as of Friday, when the house voted to pass their new centerpiece legislation, ACES. (Which stands for All your Cash will Easily be Stolen… um, no. Wait. It’s the American Clean Energy and Security Act.)

One of the key problems with that bill, at least from a technical standpoint, is that it didn’t actually exist in its finished form.

By all appearances, the House is about to vote on a very long bill of which it has no completed official copy.

Texas Republican Reps. Joe Barton and Louie Gohmert have just asked the chair whether there exists a complete, updated copy of the Waxman-Markey carbon-cap bill.

If a bill for which there is no copy were to actually pass this body,” Barton asked, “could the bill without a copy be sent to the Senate for its consideration?”

The more than 1,000 page bill had a three hundred plus page amendment and list of changes summoned out of thin air at the last moment, yet the House voted on it before those changes and additions could be incorporated into the final document. Come on, guys! The very least you could do is help out the happy and weak minded among us by preserving the illusion that you’re actually reading this stuff before you pass it.

We can, if you like, have an extensive debate on the bill itself. From what little we’ve seen there are actually some very good features in the proposal. Most of these deal with providing incentives to the expansion of alternative energy sources and providing more of our own energy via domestic sources. But at the same time, let us all at least be intellectually honest enough to admit one truth: this is a massive tax increase and there’s no other way to describe it. The energy companies are not going to simply “absorb” the additional costs and say, “Oh well. I guess we just won’t have as much of a profit this year.” They’re going to pass those costs on to us penny for penny. If that’s a cost that Americans are willing to pay to achieve these objectives, then fine. I suppose that’s what we’ll wind up doing. But please don’t try to yank our chains and call a tax increase something else.

But either way, even if we assume that the bill is reasonable, do us the courtesy of at least combining all the changes into one version before you vote. If you’re worried about using up that much paper, then just give us an electronic text document of it. Throw us a bone here, congresscritters. At least PRETEND to be doing your jobs!