Cap and Confuse

Paul Greenberg
Posted: Jul 02, 2009 3:00 PM

Here's how to get a dubious bill into law, or at least past the U.S. House of Representatives, which of late has deserved to be called the lower chamber:

-- First, make the bill long. Very long. So long no one may actually read it, supporters or opponents. Introduce a 310-page horse-choker of an amendment at 3 in the morning on the day of the roll-call vote. So it can't be examined too closely or too long. Only after the bill passes may its true costs emerge. To cite an old proverb I just made up: Pass in haste, repent at leisure.

-- Make sure that the bill itself, which was already 1,200 pages long before this super-sized amendment was added, surpasseth all understanding. (Which may be the only thing it has in common with the peace of God.) No sense risking a reasoned debate. Just round up enough party-line votes and give the majority its orders.

-- Insert all kinds of exceptions into the bill so those special interests that stand to benefit by them -- whether regional, economic or ideological -- will join the stampede.

-- Coat the bill and the campaign for it with high-sounding sloganspeak, if not hysteria. Warn that The End Is Near unless this bill is passed, at least if you consider the year 2100 near. (Imagine the hoots if, in 1909, the scientific establishment had announced what the world's average temperature was going to be a hundred years hence.) Accuse anyone not willing to rubber-stamp the bill of treason -- against the whole planet. Honest. See columnist Paul Krugman's latest j'accuse in the New York Times.

-- Keep the faith. Science may retain a healthy skepticism, but scientists can be as true believers as any of the rest of us, just as in the 1970s it became an article of "scientific" faith that the next ice age was imminent. Now it's global warming. Talk about running hot and cold. There's no fundamentalism like scientific fundamentalism. (Well, maybe secular fundamentalism.) Who says the Age of Faith is passed? Some folks'll believe anything if it comes from an authoritative figure in a lab coat. Or maybe Al Gore on one of his jet-setting tours in the cause of saving energy.

-- If necessary, change the subject at the last minute. Say, from climate change to creating jobs. And, hesto presto, though the vote may be close (219 to 212), a confusing bill can be on its way to becoming even more confusing law. Which is just what happened the other day in the U.S. House of Representatives. No wonder it's the Senate that's called the deliberative body. There's still hope it will stop this rush to misjudgment. Thank goodness for a bicameral legislature.

-- Forget the actual content of the bill, since few if any can understand it anyway. Instead, just recite talking points. It's a lot easier than actually thinking. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, didn't even bother to answer the minority leader's numerous and pointed criticisms of this energy bill. Surprise: It's not actually about saving energy after all, but about providing employment. At least to hear her yell it. Instead of a speech, she just repeated, like a cheerleader: "Jobs, jobs, and more jobs. Let's vote for more jobs." And not stop to think.

Whoever said you never want to see sausage made or laws passed did a grave injustice to sausage-makers, who are surely engaged in a much more wholesome enterprise.

Maybe the bill's boosters are talking about how to create jobs for government bureaucrats and corporate carbon-counters, which this bill would certainly do. To excess. It would set up a complex market in "carbon credits" that would allow some industries to sell their carbon quotas to others. Even if such an approach reduced carbon emissions in this country, it would scarcely have any effect on total emissions worldwide. Because huge developing economies like those of India and China would continue to pour increasing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere....

But there's no need to go into detail when just chanting incantations will solve all the world's pollution problems and revive the economy, too. Jobs, jobs, and more jobs! Save Our Planet! Suspend disbelief and go with the administration's projection that taxing industries will actually "save or create" hundreds of thousands of jobs. Just as the $787 billion stimulus package was going to keep unemployment at or below 8 percent the rest of this year. It rose to 9.4 percent in May, at least according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but what does it know?

If some 1.6 million jobs have been lost since the administration's stimulus package was passed, just think of how many more jobs would have been lost without the huge bail-outs and government outlays! Look at it this way: The worse things get, the worse they would have gotten without this administration's high-spending programs.

To quote Max Baucus, the Democratic senator who's now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, when he was grilling Timothy Geithner, the current secretary of the Treasury and de facto CEO of General Motors, Chrysler, AIG, and who knows how many other giant corporations to come: "You created a situation where you cannot be wrong. If the economy loses two million jobs over the next few years, you can say, yes, but it would've lost 5.5 million jobs. ... You've given yourself complete leverage where you cannot be wrong, because you can take any scenario and make yourself look correct."

Heads they win, tails we lose. Not to put too fine a point on it, this numbers game is fixed. But why let mere facts get in the way of a grand vision? The numbers can be rearranged later to show how the economy is actually growing and, of course, how the planet was saved.