The Wall Street Journal today has two opinion pieces that highlight hidden details of the House health care bill that may have a major impact. The first article identifies a 69% capital gains tax increase that will hit high income individuals as of January 2011. The second identifies a nod to the trial lawyers that would encourage states to “identify an alternative medical liability law” to ensure a “fair resolution of disputes. However, the passage also states that States only qualify if its new law “does not limit attorney’s fees or impose caps on damages.”

As I mentioned in my previous posting, any bill in Congress typically has numerous add-on clauses inserted by different members of Congress. That’s what causes basic proposals to blossom to thousands of pages. But what I’d be interested in knowing is the source of each of these clauses. Ideally it would be great to know who wrote each passage. I suspect, because I have heard it mentioned, that the language in these clauses is typically written by the special interest group itself who then peddles it to a member of Congress to get it inserted into the bill. These interest groups “write” most of these bills … and yet the public has no knowledge about the authors. I wonder how many authors there are in this health care bill!!

One way to fix this imperfect information problem might be to require that every passage of a bill have authorship attached. In this way the public who will be affected by the bill would have better information concerning the role of special interests in shaping particular pieces of legislation.

Of course this might be impractical especially when a passage is changed and adjusted by numerous individuals during its development. Nonetheless, each passage should have no more than a handful of “major” authors. Another problem with such a proposal is that many interest groups wouldn’t want the public to know that they authored particular clauses (eg the trial lawyers’ association). As a result, a requirement to display authorship would quickly lead to diversionary tactics. Interest groups might outsource the writing of bills to independent consulting groups. Or, the true authorship might simply be fabricated.

Alternatively, each clause could be identified with the Congress member who inserted it. Possibly this info is already available. If so it could be helpful to publicize that info and discuss it more widely.

Although, having more of this information, especially for such major legislation as the health care bill or cap-and-trade, would be very revealing, it seems impractical to simply legislate reporting requirements. Thus, the next best alternative in a free society is to encourage more reporters, bloggers and other interested parties, to investigate these details and make it available more widely. The WSJ has done some of that work today. Surely much more of it has been done in other publications.

If you know of some, and have a link, please post it here.

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