It just goes to show you; it's always something.--Roseanne Roseannadanna (Gilda Radner)
I just read Senate Bill 2853, entitled the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action. It's also referred to as the Conrad/Gregg Commission bill. By any name, it smells like rotting meat. A fellow blogger, Nance of Mature Landscaping, alerted me to this nasty little piece of work making its way to a Congressional vote.
The bill creates a bi-partisan task force to "to assure the long-term fiscal stability and economic security of the Federal Government of the United States, and to expand future prosperity and growth for all Americans." We all want fiscal stability, so what's wrong with this bill?
It assigns unheard of power to the task force that it creates. The 18 member task force is to review our existing fiscal imbalance, analyze the factors contributing to the imbalance, and propose solutions including legislation. Still doesn't sound like the sky is falling, but it gets more interesting. We need to break out the hard hats.
Any legislation submitted by the task force for consideration is to be fast tracked. Instead of the usual process of evaluation, discussion, submission of amendments, time for the public to contact their elected officials, all the standard practices of government, legislation from this task force will be excused from any meaningful review and discussion.
The bill provides that the task force submit its report and proposed legislation no later than November 9, 2010. Motions to consider the proposed legislation can be made beginning two days after it is submitted and a vote on the motion must be taken with no allowance for raising points of order or any other mechanisms to delay voting on a motion to consider the proposed legislation exactly as written. Debate is limited to 100 hours evenly divided between those for the proposed bill and those against. The proposed bill may not be amended. Ultimately, Senators and Representatives are limited to voting yes or no with insufficient time for consideration of whatever the proposed legislation from this task force contains.
Real Life Impact
SB 2853 is a not so thinly disguised attempt to place in the hands of the task force it creates the authority to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. The fast track status accorded legislation proposed by the task force will do an end run around any opportunity for advocacy groups to offer a rebuttal to any proposed legislation. The omnibus bill that is likely to be proposed will be able to be submitted for consideration to the House and the Senate within two days of its release from the task force; if you have ever attempted to review a piece of federal legislation you know that reading the average bill takes a lot longer than two days. Such a bill could be presented, debated, and passed before anyone not on the task force knows for certain what provisions it contains.
As time consuming as is the legislative process, shortening that process is a bad move. No bill is ever perfect in its first incarnation. The legislative process is essential to ensure that no bill is signed into law without close and detailed scrutiny.
It is not uncommon, indeed, it's highly likely that the longer a bill is, the more there is an increased likelihood of the inclusion of a rider or two that is often undiscovered except through the time consuming process of debate and examination that typically precedes adoption of new legislation. The amendment process provides an opportunity to correct oversights, to delete obstructions, and to just make the bill better.
You Can Do Something
This bill hasn't received a lot of media attention. On its face, it appears rather innocous. At no point does the bill reference Social Security or Medicare, or any social programs for that matter. However, the power that this bill proposes to grant will make it possible for anti-Social Security and anti-Medicare foes to steamroll over these programs in the guise of fiscal responsibility, to severely decrease funding for these programs or to cut them out entirely.
The Senate will be voting on the Conrad/Gregg Commission Bill (SB 2853) this week. Your senators need to hear from you. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) has designated tomorrow, January 19, as call in day.
You can contact your senators to tell them to vote no on SB 2853 by calling 800-998-0180. You will hear a short message explaining the urgency of contacting our senators, then the service will ask you to enter your Zip Code after which it will connect you with the offices of your senators.
You may also click this link to obtain direct contact information for our senators.
The video below from NCSSPM provides a clear critique of the potential damage from passage of this bill.