Law News and Tips
Making Sausage & The New Tax Bill
They say that making sausage isn’t pretty. I like sausage, but I’ve never made it, and I probably don’t want to know much about it. With all the government
regulation of food now, this probably isn’t as bad as it once was. However, when families used to process their own meat, they were very efficient.
Everything was used. As the saying goes, the only thing they didn’t use was the moo. And all the spare parts went into the sausage. You probably just
don’t want to know.
I look at politics much the same way. Having served on my city government, I can say it was ugly and frustrating to say the least.
To understand what’s going on, it’s probably good to keep the process in mind. Bear with me while we return to Civics 101 with an ugly dose of reality.
All revenue legislation is supposed to start in the House of Representatives. It starts in the House Budget Committee. This is where the special interest pressure starts, at least in Congress. There is public debate. Amendments are voted up or down. Then the bill is voted on according to party lines basically without regard to the merits of the bill.
If approved by the committee, the bill is then sent to the full House. Moderate horse-trading ensues, and amendments are proposed. Noble sounding speeches are made, but only for the benefit of the constituents at home. Some amendments pass while some are voted down. If the party in control likes the bill, it passes the House and is sent to the Senate.
The Senate will refer it to their Ways and Means Committee. More horse-trading ensues. Nice speeches are made. Amendments are voted up or down. Some version of the bill makes it out of that committee and goes before the Senate. Again if the party in control likes the bill, it gets approved.
The problem is the versions of the bills approved by the Senate and the House are never the same. The two versions then have to go to a Conference Committee to “reconcile” the two bills. Amendments can be inserted at that time too after all public debate is over. It’s here were some of the most controversial provisions are added, such as the HHS Mandate and the Johnson Amendments. Do you hear the meat grinder going?
What emerges from the Conference Committee many times bears striking differences from what went in. And the House and Senate then have to vote the reconciled bill straight up or straight down, without any further amendments.
In my mind the problem with this process is that you and I have no real input into what comes out of the Conference Committee. Special interest groups and very powerful constituents put pressure on the committee members. Individual congressmen propose amendments that favor one of their particular constituents. If his or her vote is needed for passage, that provision passes. Sometimes you’ll see tax code provisions that referred to a business located on a lake that operates a sandwich shop between the hours of ten and five in the state of Alabama. The name of the particular beneficiary of that law is not mentioned, but it was written so narrowly that it could only apply to one organization. But nice speeches were made.
The tax bill being proposed at best has only slim margins for passage. Concessions to individual congressmen will be necessary to get the votes they need. It will be interesting to see what special interest provisions end up in it. I guess this is all part of the democratic process, but it sure seems like sausage making to me. Is that any way to run our government?
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