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‘Clean’ Bills Becoming Rarities

December 17, 2011
By MIKE MYER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Part of the problem in Washington is that precious few important bills in Congress are "clean" pieces of legislation. Increasingly, many aren't even honest.

Political consultants love this. Come election time, it allows them to produce all sorts of attack ads insisting their candidate's opponent voted against something most people would support.

What the ads don't mention is the context.

"Clean" bills stick to one subject. For example, a tax cut measure should simply lay out what tax is to be reduced and by how much. It might also include a "funding" mechanism. Ideally, given our $15 trillion national debt, that would specify cuts in federal spending to offset loss of revenue from the tax cut.

But last week, members of the House of Representatives were asked to approve a bill purportedly intended to continue a payroll tax cut. It passed, but some good lawmakers - both Democrat and Republican - voted against it not because they oppose tax relief but for other reasons.

Some, including Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., voted "nay" for various reasons. One is the tax cut would come out of payroll withholding for Social Security, depriving the already underfunded system of hundreds of billions of dollars. McKinley wasn't satisfied with provisions claiming Social Security would be reimbursed (part of the reason for that is the bill called for, you guessed it, some tax increases to accomplish that).

McKinley had other concerns, including the fact the tax break was for only one year. Permanent tax relief is needed, he believes.

But it was the extremely "dirty" nature of the bill that also concerned our local congressman - and many others.

Television "news," as usual, didn't give viewers an accurate picture. Commentators did note the bill included a provision requiring President Barack Obama to approve construction of the Keystone Pipeline. That has nothing to do with tax relief, of course.

But the measure was loaded with other unrelated provisions not mentioned by the talking heads. They included a $17 billion cut in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals, a ban on use of welfare benefits for gambling, an order the Internal Revenue Service not send checks to illegal immigrants and a measure involving EPA regulations on industrial boilers.

Now, some of these, including the pipeline stipulation, are desirable. Republican leaders in the House inserted them for what, to them, seemed to be a good reason: There's no other way to force Obama to do the right thing.

Why not just pass a clean bill on the pipeline project? Because Obama would veto it. Attaching it to a measure the president wants would give the pipeline requirement more chance of becoming law, supporters thought (though Obama had vowed to veto the tax bill if it contained anything on the Keystone project).

How to vote on a tax bill ought to have been an easy decision for lawmakers. But, in large measure because the bill had so many other amendments added to it, it took some several days to wade through the measure (yes, many did read it) and come to decisions.

Another example of a "dirty" bill last week involved a $1 trillion spending measure. It, too, included unrelated amendments ranging from whether Americans can send money to relatives in Cuba to whether we'll be able to buy incandescent light bulbs.

Politics being politics, don't look for this to end. Again, the campaign ad producers love it. It allows them to score points with voters who, despite what they demand of candidates, too often don't read the bills themselves.

McKinley had good, solid reasons for voting against the bill, even though many of his fellow Republicans agreed with it. Remember that next fall when you see a campaign ad accusing him of voting against tax relief.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at

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