Saturday, June 26, 2010

The messy evolution of the legislative process, cont.

Bulletin from Pollyannasville:  the health care and financial reform bills disappointed purists of all persuasions.  But both came out stronger than most progressives familiar with the legislative process could have hoped.  In both cases, the widely forecast denuding of key provisions by powerful lobbies was largely forestalled.  In both, the process was more open, more closely tracked by interest and public interest groups and media observers of all stripes, than any prior legislation.

I have more than once referred  to the health care bill  postmortem by Andy Stern, ex of SEIU. His first observation below is tactical. But his second makes an historical argument for what has happened to the legislative process:
First, the longer you wait, the harder it gets and the worse it gets. Time for deliberation is appropriate, but indecision and delay are counterproductive to getting something done. The choices don't get easier over time. They get harder.

Second, people have to decide whether people in the same party will use procedural tricks to trip up their teammates. Or whether parties, particularly the Democratic Party, appreciates that the special deals and earmarks that might traditionally have been part of the process no longer work. Politicians used to bring kickbacks home to their district, but now people think the system is corrupt.

Governing honestly and openly and voting based on what's good for the country rather than for your election actually means something right now. It's really dangerous right now to be seen being corrupt in a corrupt system. Ben Nelson used to look like an honorable person in a corrupt system. Then he flipped to looking like one of the corruptors.
With that I would pair today's assessment of the financial reform bill agreement hashed out yesterday by the House-Senate conference from Paul Kanjorski, a strong advocate for tough regulation of the banks, as reported by the Times-Tribune in Scranton, PA:
He rated his overall satisfaction with the bill an "8."

The Nanticoke Democrat was one of 16 House members who joined 12 senators burning the midnight oil on what many consider the most sweeping financial reform bill since the Great Depression.

What made the conference more remarkable is that it was open to the public and televised on C-SPAN, said Mr. Kanjorski, who said it democratized and streamlined the process.

"Fewer legislative games were being played," he said. "Viewers left with a realization that none of this was simple.
Kanjorski has some credibility on this front, insofar as he managed to preserve an amendment bearing his name, well-regarded by the regulatory hawks including Simon Johnson at The Baseline Scenario, that empowers the newly established Financial Services Oversight Council to to intervene in various ways in the operations of a financial company it deems "systemically risky," including "modifying existing prudential standards, imposing conditions on or terminating activities, limiting mergers and acquisitions, and in the most extreme cases, breaking up the company."

The Democrats may well be washed out in a tsunami of economic discontent in November. And no one knows how the mammoth health care and financial reform overhauls will play out over the decades. But my bet is that history will honor the 111th Congress -- and the administration that largely shaped both bills behind the scenes.

Kudos, btw, to Gail Collins for giving Nancy Pelosi her due today.

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