Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The $2 Billion Mistake

There are many lawsuits out there that make me shake my head and go "hmmm." This one is one of those, but in a very different sort of way. The Washington Post reports this morning that the watchdog group Public Citizen has filed suit in federal court to block the implementation of the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005, the gigantic budget bill signed last month by President Bush.

Apparently there's a little problem with this law ... the House never actually voted on it. After the Senate passed the bill (with Dick Cheney casting the tie vote) back in December, a clerk managed to change a 13 to a 36, which had the effect of extending government-funded leases for "durable medical equipment" (wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, etc.) from 13 months to 36 months (a period which adds a whopping $2 billion to the overall bill). The House, not realizing that the change had been made, voted in the measure in a nailbiter, 216-214. As the Post report notes, "Once the mistake was revealed, Republican leaders were loath to fight the battle again by having another vote, so White House officials simply deemed the Senate version to be the law." The Speaker of the House and the Senate leadership simply "certified" the law, Bush signed it, and that was that.

Until yesterday, when Public Citizen filed suit to stop the law (or not-quite-a-law, as they call it), from taking effect. The Post reports on the various angles taken by law professors and other scholars about this case, which promises to be an interesting one for those of us who enjoy this kind of oddity.

I agree with those taking the position that this would set a very dangerous precedent if allowed to stand. It should take more than the "certification" of the House and Senate leaders to pass a law, and I hope the courts will make that abundantly clear. Yes it's a pain in the neck to fix a mistake like this, but really in the long run, taking another vote seems the most sensible solution.


At 9:26 PM, Anonymous Poechewe said...

From what I've been reading in the last four years, there have been other last second changes made that either aren't voted on or that are passed with a voice vote but no particular effort to verify what was being voted on.

These are very strange times.


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