Politicians use jargon to disguise the truth

If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” President Truman supposedly said that.

It still seems to apply to the way the federal government communicates with us voters. To clarify a bit, here are some things politicians say and what they mean.

Congress adopts a “continuing resolution” when it cannot agree on a budget. A continuing resolution extends the previous year’s spending temporarily for a few weeks or months. The current budget year began last October, but we are still “temporarily” living hand-to-mouth with a previous budget.

Regular order” means Congress acts normally by holding hearings and debates and then working out compromises between the House and Senate. Sen. McCain famously asked for it, and Sens. Collins and King want it. But congressional leaders push bills through using speeded up procedures.

Democratic republic” is what we supposedly have, which should allow any member of Congress – they’re all equal, right – to bring up a bill. Only two people can allow a bill to get to a vote, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader.

The “Freedom Caucus” is the strongly conservative group in the House that opposes government spending. It has enough votes to deny the House the freedom to vote on many proposals, because of Speaker Ryan’s practice, explained next.

The “Hastert Rule” isn’t a rule but a Republican practice begun by an earlier speaker, saying that no bill will reach the House floor unless “a majority of the majority” GOP supports it. Speaker Ryan adds to it by requiring that no bill may reach the floor unless it can pass with only GOP votes.

Cloture” means getting the 60 votes it takes to allow a bill to face the final simple majority vote in the Senate. That can give the minority, now the Democrats, some influence in it. President Trump wants the “nuclear option” that would end the 60-vote requirement, but the GOP worries about when it will be the minority.

The [Obamacare] individual mandate is now gone” said President Trump. The mandate was not repealed. The penalty for violating it was cut to zero. Some will obey it anyhow, thanks to government subsidies for insurance premiums. By the way, we obey the flag code and there’s no penalty for violating it.

The bill is a thousand pages long” implies that Congress lets matters get too complicated for average people. Any time even one word of a section of law is amended, the whole section must be printed. Small changes can take many pages.

An obscure law” means a law that the writer never heard of. Most laws are, by nature, obscure. One is the Logan Act, banning private citizens from carrying on foreign relations for the government on their own. Nobody has been prosecuted in 200 plus years. That makes it “obscure,” when perhaps it has simply been obeyed.

The American people want” is a phrase based on polling. But, because of the way the GOP has designed congressional districts in many states, the Democrats have to be well ahead in the polls to hope to gain control of the House. Polling meets political game playing.

Russian attempts to influence the election” are illegal, because foreigners cannot participate in or contribute to campaigns. This is mixed up with “collusion,” working with foreigners. It’s possible that, even without working together, merely knowing about foreign activity and accepting it should be rejected.

Bipartisanship” is what candidates promise but don’t produce. They claim they are ready “to work across the aisle,” doing the public’s business through compromise with members of the other party. The Freedom Caucus is exempt from this promise. Candidates say this, because that’s what voters want, but it doesn’t happen.

Compromise” is thought to mean that each side makes concessions to the other to achieve a result. For many in the GOP majority, it means they are willing to accept Democratic support for their positions, but won’t make any concessions. The Dems reciprocate and “compromise” remains as rare as the dodo.

Switzerland” is what some call Sen. Susan Collins’ office. That makes it neutral territory for Republicans and Democrats who like to consider themselves moderates to try to reach agreement on immigration and force the Senate Majority Leader to allow a vote on their deal.

What Collins is doing is positive. The would-be moderates need first to agree and then stick together to insist they carry as much weight as the Freedom Caucus. Then, we voters might get some of the bipartisanship we were promised.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.