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Question of the day

If you could pass any existing piece of legislation tomorrow, what would it be?

By Ezra Klein  | September 24, 2010; 9:43 AM ET
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The House energy bill. Climate change is much more important than immigration, DADT, etc. It also probably has more long term job creation potential than any new stimulus bill.

Posted by: redwards95 | September 24, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I would repeel the civil rights act and Obamacare and restore freedom and dignity to our country and pass a law making it a crime to build mosks

Posted by: jsfry | September 24, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

The DISCLOSE act. Until that's done, the rest is questionable.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | September 24, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Whatever the strongest cap and trade bill that is floating around the House and Senate is. Oh, and card check, it could be added as an amendment.

Posted by: Castorp1 | September 24, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

I would pass a law requiring comments on blogs to be spelled correctly.

Posted by: KathyF | September 24, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

It's hard for me to choose between the Cantwell/Collins CLEAR Act (Castorp1, that's the "strongest cap and trade bill" you are after: or HR 676 Medicare for All ( Wrap them into an omnibus bill and I'd be one doubly happy dude. Are there any bills out there that would really put the serious squeeze on Wall Street? That'd be up there on my list.

Posted by: JonathanTE | September 24, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

what all would've passed w 65 or 68 democrats in this senate?

Posted by: jackjudge4000yahoocom | September 24, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

A bill that reforms the elections, limiting the money donations, so that the officials running for elections does not owe the corporation a favor once they are in public office.

Posted by: serkangugercin | September 24, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

JJenkins2 is right but serious campaign finance restrictions (with media cost controls) should be amended in to DISCLOSE. We need to start seeing a greater distinction between business and government instead of the present merger trend.

Posted by: CrowIII | September 24, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Medicare buy in for all Americans.

Posted by: bswainbank | September 24, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

As much as I'd like to see DADT repealed, it has to be an effective climate change legislation. That would have the farthest reaching effects and would boost our job production to boot.

Posted by: JohnnyMcNugget | September 24, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I would have said that it was a close toss-up between cap & trade and the defense authorization bill... but then someone mentioned DISCLOSE. Ouch.

Can I have all three please? Pretty please? Pretty please with a global warming reversal, end to discrimination, and open government on top?

Posted by: shantyhag | September 24, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

The best available cap and trade, no question about it. The other stuff is nice, but survival affords the opportunity to fight another day with greedy elites and bigots.

Posted by: janinsanfran | September 24, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I would go with the DISCLOSE act. Second would be DADT/DREAM amendments.

Posted by: gyorym | September 24, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

DISCLOSE. Everything else will get easier when it becomes clearer who is behind the respective agendas of Democrats and Republicans.

Posted by: dal20402 | September 24, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

As far as existing legislation, I agree with the "best available cap and trade".

As far as legislation that probably doesn't exist but could, I would say a comprehensive food bill that addresses ag policy, food policy, and school lunch policy in ways that shakes up current incentives in such a way as to drastically reduce the price for healthy whole foods and increase the price for unhealthy processed foods. And make healthy food not only cheaper but much more available.

Posted by: StevenDS | September 24, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

This is easy. Climate legislation.

Posted by: mpraske | September 24, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm torn because Ezra limited it to existing legislation. I think in the abstract it's an easy answer that the most important piece of legislation that could be passed would be something that drastically reduced the amount of money in elections. Unfortunately, though I think the DISCLOSE Act would definitely help make things better and is absolutely worth passing, it's nowhere near my ideal legislation and I don't think it really "solves" the problem. On the other hand, I think Cantwell/Collins is a much more effective piece of legislation for the problem that it's addressing.

So legislation A which is weaker but addresses a more fundamental problem or legislation B which is stronger but is not addressing, I think, the most pernicious problem we face.

And so we're clear, I think climate change is a much bigger problem globally or for humanity than the way our political system works, but until we change the incentives in our political system it will be impossible to really tackle the big problems we face well.

Posted by: MosBen | September 24, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I'm sympathetic to people saying climate change, but aren't you worried that even if you passed a good climate change bill that it would get unwound to a certain degree because we have a system that encourages cowardly or demagoguing politicians?

Posted by: MosBen | September 24, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

House energy bill.

As much as I like the spirit of the Disclose Act, it just adds more transparency few Americans will care to look at. We will still be bombarded with political advertising. Congressmen will still represent corporate interests. The few of us that care enough to stay informed will know where the money is coming from, but we are not the typical American when it comes to how much information we have and seek out with regards to Washington.

Actually... Is there a bill floating out there that would kill the filibuster?

Posted by: will12 | September 24, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

DISCLOSE - It would make it so much easier to do the others.

Posted by: caed | September 24, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Ideally, you'd want to pass a bill that enacts a "structural reform", ie it makes it easier to pass further progressive legislation in the future, rather than just a "reformist reform", ie doing something worthwhile but which doesn't much change the future political landscape. While campaign finance law is often pitched this way, in practice it is rarely adequate to the scale of the problem; I think the DISCLOSE act would be a good thing to pass but its unlikely to make much of a difference. Conversely, an across-the-board statutory limit on Senate debate would obviously make everything easier, but I'm not aware of an existing piece of legislation along these lines. While I agree that climate change legislation is vitally important, and existing bills would generate some short term job creation, its unclear to me that any of these bills would actually make further progressive change easier in the future (which, again, is what I'm calling "structural reform").

So I would pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Making it much easier for workers to form unions, while also making it much more expensive for employers to break labor law would have the following desirable effects: 1) stimulate short term growth by increasing wages and beginning to close the wage productivity gap. Increased wages are the ideal way to get the $1.8 trillion in cash on corporate balance sheets circulating in the economy. 2) Deprive CEOs of at least some of the wherewithal that they are plowing into independent political expenditures and lobbying (ie via higher wages). 3) Greatly increase the counterweight to corporate money that unions already provide, essentially mobilizing more money, people, and attention for broadly progressive goals. My strong sense is that if 20% of private sector workers were in unions today, rather than 7%, it would be much easier to persuade marginal Democrats and marginal GOPers to support climate change legislation, among other things.

Posted by: rwclayton7 | September 24, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

The strongest and smartest possible climate change bill, no question.

Posted by: Chris_O | September 24, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse


It is clear that enough of our federal legislators are owned by corporate interests that they will not help the middle class (it's amazing they did HCR, looking back).

So, give people the tool they need to help themselves. Allow workers to collectively bargain, they know what they need, and could work to get it for themselves.

It is getting far to difficult to try and subsitiute the gov's efforts (min wage, poverty programs, health programs...) for a worker's own effort.

We did it before, and it worked well (40's and 50's were good times for workers). We should do it again.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | September 24, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure if this is still floating around, but a bill to allow bankruptcy judges to modify home mortgages for a primary residence would be the one I'd want. It would fix a lot of the human misery from our current crisis. It would move the housing market back to a more normal state, like where it was before all this craziness started. Plus it would force banks to take their losses instead of lurching along with all these bad loans on their books. Until both of those things happen the current recession/depression/crisis will just keep dragging on.

Posted by: wayward_va | September 24, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Public financing of campaigns. I'm sure there is a bill floating around the House or Senate that calls for federal campaigns to be funded with tax dollars, perhaps introduced by one of the progressives in the House. Much of the legal corruption that goes on in Congress is a direct result of members of Congress needing a continuous hit of campaign funding, as it skews their attention to those with the campaign donations. Seeking donations also takes up time that could be spent on policy-crafting and legislating.

Posted by: meander510 | September 24, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

CLEAR Act or any good piece of climate change legislation. That is by far the hardest law to get through any Congress, filibuster or not.

Posted by: CYOA | September 24, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I would say it would be a tossup between a) single-payer, b) a strong climate bill, c) a game changer infrastructure bill (highspeed rail etc) and d) serious election reform.

i think i would go with d), since it would make the other 3 much more feasible.

Posted by: mgraalum | September 24, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: andrewbaron78 | September 24, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

If it had to be something already on-the-table, Fair Elections Now; take the money out of elections.

If it could really be anything at all, a law requiring that all plurality elections for senators and representatives be replaced with approval elections.

(With approval, you can vote for ("approve of") as many candidates as you want. Most votes still wins, but there are no "spoiler" candidates, so you don't have to ever vote for the "lesser of two evils". This weakens the two-party system, allows more new ideas into government, and generally results in better candidates being elected.)

Posted by: mudlock | September 24, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Filibuster reform... and it doesn't even require regular legislation, just 51 senators willing to act at the beginning of the next Congress. And then everything else becomes possible.

Posted by: dss16 | September 24, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

The Uniting American Families Act.

Posted by: chitownwonk | September 24, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I've decided to go with the "Better Future Act", which gives me a $10,000,000 tax-free payment. I wrote it all out!

Posted by: MosBen | September 24, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Aside from the House climate legislation bill, I would go with Change Congress' Fair Elections Now Act.

Posted by: slag | September 24, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Is there an existing bill which would give me the authority to pass more pieces of legislation? Probably not literally, but I'll take the closest thing to the genie loophole I can find and pass Senate reform (including an end to the filibuster).

Posted by: vince432 | September 24, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Highly progressive tax rates to 95% on all gross incomes above 100 times the full time minimum wage.

Posted by: ceflynline | September 24, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Is there "any existing piece of legislation" that would abolish the U.S. Senate? :)

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | September 24, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm easy to please. Don't pass anything. Don't do anything. Just leave things be.

Posted by: bgmma50 | September 24, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Can't go with just one. I want:
1) Medicare-for-All
2) Filibuster Reform
3) A VERY progressive Energy bill (HUGE on renewables)
4) DISCLOSE or something even tougher
5) DREAM act and repeal of DADT
6) Something to put in place High Speed Rail between the top 20 cities in the US

Posted by: JERiv | September 24, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Campaign finance reform, that includes existing legislation on public financing, as well as complete transparency on special interest funding. You have to attack both aspects, because public funding will lessen the direct influence of special interest money, while transparency/disclosure would make it clearer to see the backers of independent expenditures.

If it could be any piece of legislation, I think I'd go for an updated version of the WPA & CCC. If the economy isn't producting enough jobs, then let the government fill the gap. We have infrastructure needs, and long-overdue maintenance in our national & state parks, to begin with. Perhaps the military could find a way to use many of the people as civilians, too. Such a program would go a long way toward improving the national morale. Give preference to those who've been unemployed the longest. And then give governmental hiring preferences for anyone who serves a certain amount of time, similar to what we do for veterans. Maybe also give tax breaks to private sector businesses who hire such people.

Posted by: reach4astar2 | September 24, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

No doubt - CLEAR Act.

Posted by: kcar1 | September 24, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Best place to find quality quality bankruptcy info online is

Posted by: schoonmaker25 | September 25, 2010 6:39 AM | Report abuse

I'm curious as to Ezra's definition of an "existing piece of legislation." Does he mean any bill that's been introduced by any member of Congress, even if it hasn't been brought up in the appropriate committee yet?

Because I'm pretty sure a fully auctionable, no-exceptions cap-and-trade bill, with 75% of the revenue to be rebated and the other 25% invested in green R&D and infrastructure investments, has at least been introduced, even if it's been buried.

As janinsanfran said, "The other stuff is nice, but survival affords the opportunity to fight another day with greedy elites and bigots."

. . .

If I could pass one Constitutional amendment whether it's been introduced or not, I'd abolish the Senate, and shift its responsibilities to the House.

Posted by: rt42 | September 27, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

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