Ethics Dunce: Sen. Max Baucus

Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who, along with Majority Leader Harry Reid, was the prime mover of Obamacare through to passage by the U.S. Senate, attended a citizens forum in Libby, Montana regarding health care reform and other issues, along with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius.

One attendee, Judy Matott, asked Baucus  and Sebelius, “if either of you read the health care bill before it was passed and if not, that is the most despicable, irresponsible thing.”

Baucus replied that he “essentially” wrote the Senate health care bill, but didn’t actually read it. “I don’t think you want me to waste my time to read every page of the health care bill. You know why? It’s statutory language,” Baucus said. “We hire experts.”

No, Senator, we do want you to read laws, especially 3,000 page laws, before your vote inflicts them on the public without you or the public knowing their details, quirks, intended and unintended consequences, loopholes, exceptions, costs and hidden costs, and enforcement provisions. “Statutory language” is not supposed to be a foreign language: if the person who “wrote” the legislation can’t understand it without translation by “experts,” then it is, by definition, an incompetently written, incompetent, responsible law.

I am not sure which is more horrifying: a Senator admitting that he didn’t bother to read his own legislation, or the fact that he sees nothing wrong with that. The first means that he is completely irresponsible and dishonest, since advocating complex legislation one hasn’t read is misleading and reckless. The second means that in today’s culture in Congress, such lack of diligence and responsibility is considered normal and acceptable.

Judy Mattot is 100% correct. It is indeed “the most despicable, irresponsible thing.”

9 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Sen. Max Baucus

  1. According to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), fully 94% of the bills passed in the Senate are not actually read (in whatever fashion that means) before being passed. The usual story is that a quick passage is “necessary”, and votes are not infrequently taken while the Senators are on the mobile phones, perhaps out driving, and nowhere near the Senate floor. When the government believes that the people exist to serve them, rather than as our Founding Fathers intended, it is indeed time for a clean sweep.

  2. Not much I can say in defense of today’s senate, but not reading bills seems a red herring. Much legislation contains what we engineers uded to call “boiler plate.” It had to be there to say such things as “if one section of this bill is struck down by a court, the remaining sections remain in force.” Nothing about health care there, just standard lawyers language.

    I’m more inclined to praise Baucus for truth-telling than to blame him for not reading the boilerplate.

    • Gotta read the bill, Bob. No way out. There substance in there with the boiler plate—the health care bill sure wasn’t 3000 pages of boilerplate. It was immensely complex. It’s a disgrace for the floor manager of the bill to be blase about the fact that he didn’t read it. I don’t see how anyone can argue otherwise.

  3. Let me see — Baucus wrote the bill without reading it.

    Man, if I could do that, I’d be the greatest blogger ever. I could post ten times an hour.

    But being the mere mortal that I am, I have to read what I write. Sometimes, the stuff that comes out of my keyboard is not really what I meant to say. I suspect if I wrote my posts and handed them to someone else to translate into officialese, or “legislative language,” or ancient Greek or modern Italian, there is every good possibility I would want to review it to make sure it says the same thing as I intended.

    But I guess our legislators just use the Force. Or perhaps, like the Na’vi, they are issued tentacles upon election which allow them to just touch the mile-high stack of dead trees and hear their ancestors telling them how great the bill is.

    Oh, to have actual representatives in the national legislature who worked like normal folks.

  4. I don’t know how much of the bill Baucus actually read. Maybe he’s as much of a phony as Jack, Glenn, and Peter think. What I do know is that when I used to manage the Military Construction bill at the Pentagon I carefully read all the parts that my lawyer and I considered “substantive.” I glossed over pages and pages of notwithstandings and other legal language that I had seen many times before and which the lawyers said had to be in the bill,

    If anybody had criticized me for not actually reading the entire bill I think it would have been precisely right but unfair.

    • That’s a good perspective, Bob. Ithink with the legislation you are talking about, it makes sense. My sister actually wrote parts of the Health Care bill, and tells me that there is an unbelievable amount of substance in it, badly and sometimes ambiguously written, and that if any one person has read every substantive provision, she would be shocked….meaning that no one person actually knows what’s in the bill or how the provisions interact. She compared it to Monty Python’s WWII “killer joke,” that had to be translated into German with a different translator for each word, lest someone read the whole joke and die laughing.

      Recall that Sen. Bob Packwood killed Hillary’s first HC bill in the Senate by being the only Senator who read the thing front to back, and by using debate to pull disturbing provisions out and challenge supporters to defend them (I watched the debate because I was bedridden at the time.) That should have been done with this bill. It should be done with EVERY major bill.

  5. Point well taken. Some folks in DC seem to avoid reading anything. I remember being shocked–really–that Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and others hadn’t read the intelligence report on Iraq before voting to authorize the war.

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