Plain English in Congress
There's an interesting -- well, sort of interesting -- debate going on at the Finance Committee's mark-up right now. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) has an amendment forcing the Senate Finance Committee to delay its vote until a final CBO score of the final legislative language is available. This would essentially delay a vote for three weeks: First the so-called "conceptual language" has to be converted into legislative language. Then the legislative language has to undergo a two- to three-week final scoring process.
This has never been demanded in the history of the Finance Committee.
I imagine this amendment will fail, and I'll update the post when I know for sure. But I was struck by Kent Conrad's rejoinder to the argument that the "conceptual language" is insufficient.
What is conceptual language? It's plain English. Plain English. I'm not a lawyer. We write our bills in plain English so the members can understand them, and so the public can understand them. Conceptual language is much more transparent. To most people, legislative language is gobbledy-gook.
That's absolutely correct. It's to the Finance Committee's credit that they begin by writing their bills in plain English. Other committees should follow suit. It not only allows the public to follow along, but it allows the members to follow along.
People like to demand that congressmen should read the full text of bills. But congressmen don't do that because it's an absurd request: The bills are incomprehensible. It wouldn't enhance their understanding at all. Conceptual language, however, does, and if it became standard practice for bills to begin in that format, I imagine many more members would read them. To get a sense of the difference, scan H.R. 3200, the House bill, and then click over to Baucus's Mark.
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