A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Truth Be Told? You Wish

I am a regular listener to "On The Media" (OTM) on my iPod. A recent segment called Just Read It was an interview with Ken Silverstein, the Washington editor for Harper's Magazine. The interviewer used the health reform bill as a vehicle to cover the issue of fact checking.

Regular Readers: I've included a new section on the bottom right side of my blog with a group of fact checking sites that Mr. Silverstein recommends. The sites can come in handy when you need to find out whether politicians and interest groups are providing accurate information to you. He says the sites don't have a particular agenda and aren't to the right or to the left.

The interview was quite interesting. If you don't have an iPod, you can listen to the recording online. Below is Mr. Silverstein's own summary of his comments on OTM regarding the health reform posturing going on in and around Congress. (Note: I tried to provide you a link, but the Harper's site was down and I never intentionally provide you with a dead link. So I retrieved the text below from Google's cache of the original article, which shows the page as it was when they indexed it for the Google site. Remember that if a page is listed but has become a dead link, look for the Google list to show that a "cache" version of the article.)

Not Reading the Health Reform Bill: Ignorance or bliss?

I was on NPR’s On The Media on Saturday to talk about conservative critics of the Obama administration’s health care reform bill who are arguing that legislation is being rushed through and demanding that lawmakers “read the bill.” There are plenty of reasons to criticize the administration’s “reform” effort, but this is a pretty silly objection (and not only because there is still no official bill to read).

First off, huge pieces of legislation are routinely passed by Congress that no one has read, other than perhaps for the few staffers that put them together. That might not be a good thing– though anyone who has ever tried to read a major bill knows you can’t get beyond the first few pages without nodding off– but this wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. As I wrote in Harper’s in 2005 about one mammoth appropriations bill that contained $16 billion in earmarks, making it (until then) the biggest single piece of pork-barrel legislation in American history:

Teams of staffers labored long into the night to edit the various bills that would be folded in, after which the mass of pages was fed through copier machines across Capitol Hill. There was no time to produce a clean copy, so the version of the omnibus bill that Congress voted on was a fourteen-inch-thick clump of papers with corrections, deletions, and additions on virtually every page. Handwritten notes peppered the margins; typefaces varied from section to section and from paragraph to paragraph. First made available to lawmakers at around 12:15 A.M. on November 20 (and only to those who happened to be browsing the House Rules Committee website, where it was posted), the omnibus bill came to a vote before the full House some sixteen hours later, at approximately 4:00 that afternoon, and before the Senate at 8:42 that evening. For the legislators who approved it, reading the 3,320 page bill before the vote would have been a mathematical impossibility.

If members of Congress were required to read every bill they voted on, the business of Washington would grind to a halt. (OK, so maybe that should be a requirement).

Beyond that, any health reform bill that comes to a vote will have been debated by five congressional committees. No one will have read it, but that doesn’t mean that it will not be discussed by Congress, nor that the key provisions won’t have been analyzed by the media and advocacy groups.

By the way, if you are a regular subscriber to a public radio podcast, be sure to support the media outlet by providing a donation. Places like WNYC, which produces OTM, and NPR, which distributes it, are seriously hurting in this economy so anything you can give them will help. Click to pledge a donation to WNYC and/or NPR.


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