The National Health Service Bill

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The progress of a bill through Congress has been the topic of numerous studies and an almost infinite number of political science papers. However, comprehending the legislative process is so essential to a political science career that every scrap of anecdotal evidence must be retrieved from those surrounding the legislative process. Fortunately, Eric Redman’s intriguing account of the passage of S 4106, the National Health Service Bill, is a well-organized narrative of the legislative process. Whether or not it resembles a “dance” is really more of a figure of speech than a literalism, but Redman has tried to represent the messy process of legislation in as elegant and orderly a manner as possible while still remaining true to his subject.

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One of the key problems in the “true” representation of Congress’s machinations is the multitude of unwritten rules and implied power structures that exist in the government and economy of the US. People in Congress must “learn the game”, a process that can take longer than the passage of the average bill! In this way, legislation is more like an immense and complex team poker game than a dance. Well-meaning legislation like S 4106 can be defeated routinely for a number of reasons, none of which imply that member of Congress are unaware of the ideals and dreams that drove them into politics in the first place. If congresspersons defeated the healthcare-for-the-poor bills like this one in the past, it was not because they wished ill health on the economically disadvantaged citizens of the US. Most likely the defeat of similar bills was due to improper coalition-building, bad planning in the distribution of funds proposed by the bill, or some other “political” reason.

Congressmen and women propose legislation based on what they believe is best for their constituents. The fact that they must answer to the voters makes it impossible nfor them to support every bill, particulary in light of the fact that the US’s budget is finite, and contract or aid to states individual projects is hotly competed for in wha tis known as “pork-barrel legislation” Socially responsible legistlation often gets put aside during election years in foavor of this sort of spending, because older, more cynical member of Congress are well aware of the power Federal money has over their constituents. Creating jobs in a middleclass district will often garner more votes than passing a nations hospital funding bill that will help the poorest of the poor in America. However, the implication in Redman’s addendum to the 200 edition that Congress is no longer the bastion of cooperative effort that it once was in not necessarily the case. The divide between the two dominant parties is deeper now that it once was, but recent events and the growing moderation of political figures may point to an era of greater cooperation in the future.

S 4016 passed while other, similar public health bills were defeated in committee or on the floor. The success of S 4106 is attributed, by Redman, to senator Magnusson’s talent for coalition-building between those dedicated to socially progressive ideals and those seeking an infusion of federal funds into the health industry. The position of Dr. Abraham Bergman demonstrates that citizen initiative can indeed become policy, while the final outcome of the bill, its status and its implementation, was due to a cooperative effort between senators from the Commerce and Health Committees. Redman was put in charge of the bill because, like many other high-level congressional aides, he was responsible for a quota of pending legislation that required only a short briefing and a signature by the senator himself. So much potential legislation passes through the offices of the member of the House and Senate that if each senator representative was wholly responsible for it, only a tiny fraction of the bill that received floor attention would even make it to committee. The Dance of Legislation accurately portrays the importance of the congressional aide in the legislative process, even though Redman tries to downplay himself at every turn. As a look at the passage of a bill through the Senate, the book is suspenseful and helpful anecdote about the inner workings of the US government.

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