I have a favorite line from the musical “Once Upon A Mattress.” It perfectly describes the two-faced nature of political speech. In Mattress, the queen wants to get rid of the princess, but not upset the love-struck prince. She conspires with her minions to devise a princess test that “looks fair, and sounds fair, and seems fair, and isn’t fair.” Then she breaks into song, singing of sensitivity – a character trait of true princesses – and how to create a test that looks fair but would be darn near impossible to pass.
There are many sensitivity tests in the worlds of law, regulation and politics. Advocates fight process barriers as often as legislative action. It’s important to recognize when the rules are changing, whether the new barrier is only meant to look fair. How do you sift through a regulation, legislative update or process change to know whether or not you’ve got a pea hidden beneath a stack of mattresses?
How do you know whether or not the rule is meant to be fair – or just look fair? One way is to look for who proposed it. Is there real bi-partisan sponsorship? “Real” means more than two members from each party.
Another clue is found in who likes the change. Who testified? Who is advocating a need for change under the flag of “fair and balanced.” There is often a pea beneath the mattress when supporters have similar political philosophies and there may be an undisclosed (or sometimes obvious) benefit to the new “balance” they propose. And a third clue, is whether the change adds voices or takes them away.
REAL TIME LEGISLATIVE UPDATE EXAMPLE – BEING CONSIDERED BY THE HOUSE.
TO BE CONSIDERED UNDER A CLOSED NO AMENDMENT RULE.
For instance, examine proposed changes to the EPA’s scientific advisory board. The report coming from the committee uses words like “independent” and “fairly balanced,” and “facilitate(s) participation in a manner that will improve scientific advice without unduly burdening” the agency.
The proposed improvements:
- limit the number of public comments that will be published in the Federal Register to ONE per topic (with a number that represents how many similar comments were received),
- require all advice to be delineated as science or policy,
- require dissenting opinions be recognized (the exponential factor is how you know if it’s dissent),
- mandate that any “uncertainties” be disclosed,
- instruct the board to provide substantive responses to dissenting opinions.
Seems fair, right?
You can find the pea in the context of the report. Bi-partisanship? That’s not much of a thing these days, so it’s not surprising to see none. On the other hand, it was also strictly a party vote coming out of the Rules committee.
Next – the supporters? That may be the best clue. The folks who support this new balance for policy advice on environmental science are:
- Farm Bureau
- Portland Cement Association
- National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association
- Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council
- National Association of Home Builders
- Dr. Pat Michaels (CATO)
- Professor Will Happer (Princeton and National Academy of Sciences)
- American Exploration and Production Council (AXPC) Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA)
- US Chamber of Commerce
- E&E Action, Independence Institute, and Western Energy Alliance
I detect a trend there. Do you?
Finally, a lot of information that is published in the register now would get stuffed into committee files, represented by a tick mark behind the “representative” comment. Some voices will be muffled, some volumes equalized, choirs of voices less audible.
Article Updated 5/17/17
Law Passes House – Testimony available Here