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From Farce to Tragedy

Last weekend, we reported how Congress had failed to pass identical versions of the same bill in the House and Senate, meaning it couldn’t be signed into law. Now they’ve fixed the problem … by lying.

S. 853 and H.R. 1765 are both called the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013. They allow the Federal Aviation Administration to move money around so that it doesn’t have to furlough air traffic controllers under the across-the-board budget cuts produced by sequestration.

Late last week, the House and Senate each passed their bills, and the Senate agreed to automatically pass a bill “identical” to the one they had passed when the House version arrived. Except, before the House version arrived, its sponsor amended it, changing the word “account” to “accounts” in one place. (The FAA has to move money from multiple appropriations accounts in order to pay air traffic controllers, not just one.) That meant that the bills weren’t identical and couldn’t be sent to the president for his signature.

Well, the fix is in. And we mean “fix” in the worst possible way. Rather than pass a bill identical to the House bill, the Senate lied to itself to get the bill through the process. And the bill is now what can only be called a grammatical embarrassment.

During a one-minute session on Tuesday, the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to retrieve the bill it passed from the House “in order for the Secretary of the Senate to make corrections in the engrossment of this bill.” Engrossment—that’s when the Secretary of the Senate produces the official copy to send to the House or the president.

The thing is, there were no corrections to make. The Secretary had engrossed the bill correctly. It’s just that the Senate had passed a bill with “account” in it and the House had passed a bill with “accounts” in it.

But I guess if you’re the Secretary of the Senate, you’re going to take the fall sometimes. The House and Senate couldn’t take the time to do things right, and they decided that it’s the Secretary’s fault.

But that’s not all. With this “error” cleared up, a shiny new one has emerged. When the House and Senate changing the word “account” to “accounts” in one place, it forgot to do so the second place in the same sentence!

The idea is to allow the FAA to use money from multiple Treasury accounts to fund air traffic controllers. Here’s a shortened version of what the convoluted sentence says in the final version of the bill:

Notwithstanding [other laws and policies], the Secretary of Transportation may transfer during fiscal year 2013 [up to $253,000,000] to the appropriations accounts providing for the operations of the Federal Aviation Administration, for any activity or activities funded by that account, from [airport grants-in-aid] or any other program or account of the Federal Aviation Administration.

We’ve added italics to show you the two instances of “account/s” that don’t match up. The second one is still singular, referring back to the first one, which is plural.

But what the heck. When Congress is moving only a quarter-billion dollars around, there isn’t much reason to take time to get it right.

Maybe President Obama can straighten this out. He, after all, promised as a candidate for president in 2008 that there would be a five-day public review of all bills sent him by Congress.

Oh. The bill was presented to him Tuesday, the White House posted it on the pending legislation page at 6:42 p.m. that day, and he signed it on Wednesday. Oh well.

Visitor Comments for From Farce to Tragedy RSS 2.0

Martin Matassa Jr.

What are the hidden if any implications of this law

Martin Matassa Jr.

What are the provisions of the new law now as opposed to the situation before?

Martin Matassa Jr.

What types of moderation are acceptable?

Martin Matassa Jr.

What means acceptable?

Martin Matassa Jr.

I would like a cogent response to my comments awaiting moderation.

Martin Matassa Jr.

How can I moderate my standards to meet your standards of moderation.

Martin Matassa Jr.

The hidden implications of the appropriation of $253,000,000.00 are suggestive of potential abuse by use the language of the law suggesting that the FAA my use these monies other than there original purpose that of easing of furloughs for air traffic controllers.

Martin Matassa Jr.

What congress unintentionally create was an ambiguity in the law that would render it null and void.

Martin Matassa Jr.

Forget it doesn’t look like I will get a substantive response

Martin Matassa Jr.

The ramifications of the passage of $253,000,000.00 to be used by the FAA for intended use of preventing furloughs by air traffic controllers is still in limbo

Martin Matassa Jr.

Another example of congress not doing their jobs.

Martin Matassa Jr.

Does this mean that no matter how I broach a subject it will be dismiss with the phrase “Your comment is awaiting moderation”.

Congress Prevents Flight Delays by Lying; Cuts Funding for Domestic Violence Relief Programs - - National Priorities Project

[…] of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. This was post originally appeared on the site Washington Watch.Photo by John Krzesinski / Creative Commons flickrTags : budget […]

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