Do You Speak legislativ-ese? Me Neither.

Waiting for Spring in Washington, 2021.

Quote of the Weekend: Here’s the part of the COVID Relief Bill we’ve all been waiting for (in case you nodded off listening to it being read aloud in the Senate):

“subsection (a)(1) of such section 314 shall be applied by substituting ‘91 percent’ for ‘89 percent’” and “without regard to requirements in sections 658E(c)(3)(E) or 658G of such Act (42 U.S.C. 9858c(c)(3), 9858e).”

Those are actual excerpts from the Covid relief bill.

Ok, I’m kidding.

Not about the reality of that quote (it’s from a reliable source), but about waiting eagerly to read (or hear) it.

A sidewalk next to congressional office buildings, early 2021.

As to what it means, don’t ask me. And don’t bother to ask your senator either. Because, as Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman disclosed today,

“Let me share a secret with you: Members of Congress don’t read the text of most of the bills they vote on. That’s true of both Republican bills and Democratic bills. But it’s not because they aren’t doing their jobs.

So why don’t they read most bills? The first reason is that there are just too many. In the last Congress, which ran from 2019 to 2021, there were over 20,000 bills introduced, and just under 1,900 that were considered on the floor. And that was not a particularly productive Congress.
So members have to rely on summaries prepared by staff and instructions from their party leadership on whether to vote yea or nay; otherwise the task is just too enormous.
But more importantly, legislative text is so impenetrable that it makes your iTunes terms and conditions look like “Hop on Pop.” It’s full of convoluted lines like —“

— Well, like the actual Covid Bill text quoted above. And, Waldman adds: “They show why Congress has staffers who have expertise in writing and interpreting legislation.”

So, noting the numbers Waldman cites, here’s another secret: if Congress was like an airport and bills were approaching airplanes, nine out of ten wouldn’t make it to the hangar. Mostly they don’t even crash: big sinkholes open on the runways, soundlessly swallow them up, then close behind them. For that matter, of the 1900 which do get to the floor — many of those do crash & burn. And their paper debris is quickly swept under the Hill’s capacious rugs, often in the blink of an eye.

So here’s to the staffs, who are like unelected co-pilots, doing most of the real work, always ready for the Boss to slide into their seat at the last minute, hear the wheels squeak, then step out the cabin door to bask & wave. (Or, as happens those 90-plus percent of other times, slip anonymously away to their cubbyhole offices, and make calls begging rich people for campaign money.)

In another century, I was among the crowd of staffers for a couple years.  There were moments of excitement, but much more tedium. One way I filled the tedium was by giving impromptu job counseling to dozens among the unending stream of people who coursed through the congressional office corridors, looking desperately for someone to let them join all the purportedly nonstop excitement on our side of the desks.

The author, during those years, in Hill-ready getup.

I was always cheery (imagine!) and encouraging. But in truth their odds were about those of the average Powerball ticket holder. Yet they never stopped coming.

We had a name for their condition: Potomac Fever.

When my Boss left and my job ended, I missed the paychecks; but overall, was quite ready to leave The Hill behind. In fact, I felt not the slightest twinge of Potomac Fever; my tour there had somehow given me antibodies. Maybe all those non-job interviews were like a vaccine.

Sure, Congress remains a crucial social/political organ. It does a necessary job, albeit not particularly well. But I was content to let someone else’s Powerball ticket turn up a winner for the minor slot I vacated.

Maybe it’s more exciting up there this year, what with an invasion, a body count, high fences with razor wire, new members packing heat on the floor, and Guard troops all around.

Yes, their job is still necessary, and worth protecting. But I’m still immune.


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