Our Favorite Congressman, Mr. Handsy

Every week, our Anonymous Lobbyist answers your questions about how laws get made and why they probably shouldn't. If you have a question about the dirty business of doing business in Washington, ask her.

This week: Does anyone in Congress actually "read" legislation?


Do Lobbyists make up derogatory nicknames for the Members?

Although I probably would, this is actually more difficult in practice than it is in theory. I mean, most Members are older, white, slightly paunchy and a little follicularly challenged. What are we going to call them? Baldy? Fattie? Mr. Handsy? It's not as easy as it sounds to nickname 435 people in a pretty homogenous group. Mostly, we just call them all by their last names, kind of like everyone did with teachers in high school.

On average, what percentage of bills that go to the floor are read by the average lawmaker and/or a member of his staff? Have there ever been bills that reached a vote without anyone reading them in their

entirety? If so, how often does this happen?

I'm not exactly a numbers girl, here. But, let me stand up for Congressional staff. Have you read bill text? That shit is fucking boring, and most of it doesn't actually say anything. So, staff just sorta lets what ever staff member wrote it (or Thomas) tell them what a bill says most of the time. Plus, there are thousands of bills, and leadership isn't always good about telling the rank and file (especially the rank and file across the aisle) what is on the agenda or what the amendments say in a timely fashion.

So, most of the time, Members defer to Members that are considered tuned into an issue. So, someone that serves on the Veteran Affairs Committee might pick someone with whom they are in political agreement on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and vote however that Member says they ought to. And, regardless, if Congress ends up passing an omnibus approps bill (like they are heading for at this point), there isn't a single person who has read that shit the whole way through, which is both why everyone agrees omnibus appropriations bills are a bad idea and simultaneously why everyone loves them.

I just want to know why our government seemed to think it would take a constitutional amendment to prohibit alcohol, but didn't think this step was necessary to prohibit other drugs.

Because most people prefer drinking? What, am I a Constitutional scholar? Let me put it to you this way: does making this kind of whiny argument about legal necessity help you get anything done in Washington, or does it make you look like a whiny, jealous pothead with no real argument for the legalization of your drug of choice to a bunch of alcoholics? Because, as a functional alcoholic, I just read

whiny jealousy more than anything else, and I don't really know/care anything about marijuana legalization, so you might want to try for a better legislative strategy than that.

I have about how some lobbying firms focus primarily on specific Congressmen on behalf of companies to secure earmarks/contracts. Considering that powerful incumbent congressman rarely get voted out of office, I guess the plan would work in the long run. Do many lobbying firms operate with such a narrow focus? If their guy does gets the boot or more likely gets caught with his pants down do they just find a new pigeon?

To a degree, this depends on the laziness of the lobbyist and the stupidity of the Member in question. Most of these kinds of lobbyists are either part of a much larger firm, which means they can be booted

if their "sugar daddy" can't produce (or they can't convince the client that is doesn't have anything to do with the fact that they're completely reliant on one Member), or they formed a firm based on the

existence of one sugar daddy. In the case of a one-sugar-daddy firm, yeah, if the Member goes down, those lobbyists had better be damn good at finding new jobs (unlikely, since why would they be working at a shitty company if they were?) or be calling contacts in the Bush Administration trying to line up employment through January 2009 (since any remaining good/mediocre people are fleeing that particular boat like it's the fucking Titanic).

But, in general, this is why more general lobbyists view earmark-only lobbyists with a degree of contempt. If I'm working on, say, 3 to 4 issues for a client/employer, there's no guarantee that someone who supported me on one bill will support me on another. I've got to pound the pavement like I'm looking for a new job, make nice with a bunch of different people who aren't necessarily on my side, and make a case on a district-by-district or state-by-state basis depending on the piece of legislation because, when it comes to real bills, you can't campaign-contribution enough votes (unless maybe you're the Chamber) to pass a piece of legislation without having something legitimate to say. On the other hand, for a one-off earmark, you only need to convince one sucker. In a crowd of 535, you know there's at least one -- just like voters.

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