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February 17, 2006

Maybe we should change it to the Read the SAME Bills Act

The Associated Press reports that President Bush signed into law a Medicaid bill that the House didn’t actually pass

At issue is a provision involving the period of time the government pays to rent some types of durable medical equipment before medical suppliers transfer it to Medicare patients.

The Senate voted for 13 months, as intended by Senate and House negotiators, but a Senate clerk erroneously put down 36 months in sending the bill back to the House for a final vote, and that’s what the House approved Feb. 1.

By the time the bill was shipped to Bush, the number was back to 13 months as passed by the Senate but not the House.

To be fair, this is a technical error and it appears that 13 months is the intent of both houses of Congress. But the fact is, the House did not pass it as such. Two points stand out

:1. If Congress was subject to the Read the Bills Act, the House negotiators would have noticed the clerical error and corrected it.
2. This law is invalid, because the Constitution requires that the House and Senate pass the same, exactly identical bill for it to become law. Thankfully, as the AP story reports, an Alabama attorney, Jim Zeigler, is filing a suit charging its unconstitutionality.

But what is the reaction of Congress and the White House?

The White House and House and Senate GOP leaders say the matter is settled because the mistake was technical and that top House and Senate leaders certified the bill before transmitting it to the White House.

Why won’t they correct the error? Because the bill passed by the narrowest of margins: 216-214. If the corrected bill was put to a vote, it might not pass.

This is not a trivial issue. It’s bad enough that members of Congress often do not know what they vote for. But here is an instance where the President signs into law a bill that Congress didn’t even pass. If this isn’t corrected, then the government will be rewarded for its own sloppiness and incompetence. And that’s just a small step from something far worse. Today’s “error” will become tomorrow’s deliberate fraud.

This should be stopped in its tracks. Hopefully the federal courts will strike this phony “law” down and force Congress to pass the same bill. It’s disappointing, though not surprising, that Congress refuses to fix this on its own.

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