Schoolhouse Rock’s ‘I’m Just a Bill’ Seems Out of Date
The story of a lonely bill waiting on Capitol Hill to find out if he will become a law taught millions
of kids about the legislative process, but, this week, that lesson seems to have been lost on the members of the United States Senate.
The three-minute cartoon from 1976, which tells the story how a bill becomes a law, from introduction to possible signature by the President, was part of a series of instructional animated shorts that ran on TV during ABC’s Saturday morning cartoons. The main character, Bill, was conceived as an idea from citizens wanting to create a law. The people call their Congressman and he introduces a bill in Congress.
Bill goes on to sing his story as a Congressional committee debates his fate in the background. Bill tells a young boy that he’s waiting to see if the committee will vote favorably on him and send him on for
a vote by the full House of Representatives. If the House votes “YES”, Bill explains, he would then move on to the Senate where the process starts all over again. That quaint old cartoon now seems like a folk tale because it doesn’t at all resemble today’s Washington.
This week, the U.S. Senate took up the Republicans’ plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Unlike the cartoon, where a bill was introduced and debated in committee, this week the Senate voted twice on bills that weren’t even disclosed until just hours before they were voted on by the full Senate.
First, on Monday, the Senate voted on a procedural move to begin debate on a repeal measure. The vote was 50-50, so Vice President Mike Pence was called in to cast the tie-breaker. At the time,
no text had been made public.
By Wednesday, a bill to repeal Obamacare was put up for a vote. It failed in dramatic fashion when John McCain joined six other Republicans to oppose the bill that would have repealed Obamacare over two years, ostensibly giving them time to craft a new law to replace it.
Late Thursday night, a “skinny repeal” bill called the Health Care Freedom Act was put up for a vote. That bill called for only repealing a few provisions of Obamacare, and offered no replacement. Three Republican Senators, again including McCain, voted against it in a 49-51 vote.
In May, after weeks of fits and starts, the House passed a version of a repeal bill that the Congressional Budget Office estimates will result in more than 23 million people losing their health insurance. The bill was moved to the Senate and lead to this week’s attempts at a Senate version of a repeal.
After seven years of voting more than 40 times to defund Obamacare, and after campaign promises last year by Donald Trump and many Republican candidates to immediately repeal it, now that Republicans have complete control of Washington D.C. they seem completely unsure how to move forward on ending Obamacare.
This week’s desertion of the legislative process for political expediency was defended by Republicans as a necessary step because Democrats were unwilling to help dismantle President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
But, not too long ago, Republicans were singing a different tune. On May 13, 2007, then-Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama, today the U.S. Attorney General, spoke for three hours on the Senate floor to criticize the way Democrats were moving a bill on immigration reform that was jammed through the Senate without honoring the traditional process.
“This is not how the process is supposed to work. We should not be asked to trust our colleagues and vote to put a bill on the floor when we do not know that the bill text is even finalized, that the bill has not been drafted by legislative counsel, the bill has not been introduced or even given a bill number, the committee process was skipped and not followed, a Congressional Budget Office score may not have been requested,” Sessions said.
And what did Senator Sessions use as a prop during his speech defending the legislative process? A giant picture of a scene from “I’m Just a Bill.” Ironic, isn’t it?
Congress members should remember that they live and die by the sword. In these times of dramatic political shifts, either Party could swing into and out of power quickly, so they should each honor and defend the rules and processes when they are in power so they can survive when the other Party inevitably gets back in control.
If not, we may soon need a revised, and very short, “I’m Just a Bill” cartoon:
(1) Write a bill in secret.
(2) Vote on it down partylines.
(3) Call it a day and go home.