Small Language Gripe

I’m opposed to calling bribes to recalcitrant legislators “sweeteners.” High fructose corn syrup is a “sweetener.” The Senate lardering up a novel’s worth of incentives to get the House to change its mind on a bill it bounced just days before is a goddamn bribe. Please let’s all just call it what it is. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

52 Comments on “Small Language Gripe”

  1. This is why Congress is flirting with single digit approval ratings. They can’t pass a single bill without inserting bribes to 35% of both chambers. This reinforces my intention to vote against the incumbent in any legislative election for the rest of my life.

  2. “People with weak stomachs should not watch sausages or laws being made” :)

    Or, if you like, “Politics is the art of trading money for votes”

    – Mark

  3. Comparing some of these things to HFCS seems quite appropriate. Bad for you, damages the neurons that would make you stop taking more, sneaks in to things that you wouldn’t believe… yeah, “sweetener” is a fine description. Comparing these things to, say, saccharin would *not* fit, though, because at least with that a little goes a long way.

  4. A few days ago I was in favor of the bailout. They convinced me another Great Depression was immenient. But the House rejected it and the world is still here. Now the cynical side of me its just another (though VERY large) government slush fund. We need to run them all out of town.

  5. Amen Mr. Scalzi! If the bailout has merit, it should stand on its own. I’m very skeptical of any bill that needs to get larded up with hundreds of pages of crap to make it palatable.

  6. Grandpa always said life was like a shit sandwich, and the more bread you had the less shit you had to eat.

    Some things don’t change very much–but what do you expect from the people who caused the problems–and I don’t mean just the dems who have been in control for a few months.

  7. stevem, it took a good three years from the ’29 stock market crash to get to the depths of the Depression. In fact, immediately after the crash there was a significant market recovery. Don’t assume that because things aren’t visibly falling apart around you that they aren’t in fact falling apart around you.

    And throwing the bums out of Congress is useless if all we’re going to do is elect fresh bums. If you know someone who’d be good in high office, great, support them, but advocating a wholesale purge isn’t helpful. Although I must admit that I find some appeal in Brad DeLong’s suggestion that the current Republican Party be burned to the ground, plowed under, and the ground strewn with salt. But that’s just me.

  8. @ #8/Bob: The problem with your argument is that Herbert Hoover made a recession into a depression and FDR made it a Great big long one. The crap the government is trying to pull now will just do the same. It’s government manipulation of financial markets, mainly through the expansion of the supply of money and credit starting in the 90s (via things like monetary inflation, artificially low interest and mortgage rates, subsidies and guarantees of bailouts, deposit insurance and the like), that got us into this mess in the first place. Both parties are to blame really. They created an artificial boom by encouraging malinvestments. Those bubbles can’t last forever and the inevitable recessions that follow involve necessary market corrections, including the liquidation of malinvestments and the reallocation of assets into productive uses.

  9. I’ve read all the first bill and 80% of the second bill by now and while I agree that something is needed, this ain’t it.

    The primary dealstopper is simple: the so-called oversight board is all executive branch loyal bushies, has no real time oversight processes or functions and even if it saw Paulson, for example, giving away the store it has no override options or corrective options: no teeth. It doesn’t even report anything, even if it wanted to, till January. Usless so-called oversight. Everything else becomes not worth the congressional paper it is printed on.

    Michael’s plan actually has some good ideas in it. Those who hate him reflexively can go stifle yourselves. I’m not saying this is the magic bullet but some of the ideas could be part of a plan that might work. Lord knows that neither of the first two plans pass the smell test.

  10. I agree, John. I contacted both my senators yesterday and asked them NOT to pass this. Yeah, that worked out real well for me.

  11. Re: sweeteners – considering how pissy the House Republicans got when Pelosi (accurately) pointed out that some of this was their fault, well, we can’t just call a bribe a bribe.

  12. Yeah. It’s a bribe. A bipartisan bribe, but a bribe nonetheless. Not too many more Republicans voted against it.

  13. I too am incredibly pissed that they added all the pork and bribes to the bailout bill to get it to pass. The first bailout bill was admittedly flawed but hey – they don’t have time to write a new one. Jeez, if it only took 3 days to write it originally, then they’ve had a week or more to come up with a new one, possibly better since there’s been plenty of suggestions. I’m going with voting the incumbents, Dem and Rep, OUT. We may not get better people but at least it would send some sort of message.

  14. Can we start a campaign to replace the entire congress now? Each recumbent up for election should learn the cost of borrowing money from our children to preserve the wealth of their upper income supporters.

    I have long thought that we live in a plutocracy, not a democracy. This bill just makes it abundantly clear where our lawmakers put their priorities.

  15. I’m coming to the opinion that the only way to reduce corruption is to select our Congressmen and women by lottery, with winners being barred from serving more than one term. I think the tattooed, boozing, don’t care much about literature (unless it has naked pictures) construction workers I know from work (i.e. the have legal problems) are a heck of a lot better human beings and have quite a bit more common sense then the educated and supposedly enlightened policitical class we have now.

  16. i wish I could get a ‘bailout’ every time I screw up. I wrote to both my Senators and it was enlightening to see how they voted the R voted No and the D voted Y.

    I need to rethink my support … again …

  17. I don’t understand why they don’t rewrite the bill to bail out the people getting foreclosed on. Wouldn’t that help the average guy, and make the over-valued mortgage backed securities worth more, thereby attacking the root of the problem?

    I’m beginning to hate all politicians.

  18. CJ @ 19 & 20

    I think recumbent is exactly right in this case. The folks that have been around for awhile (both parties) lay down for money all the time. There is another word for this but I think my fellow travelers here at Whatever know what it is…

  19. Todd Stull asks:

    I don’t understand why they don’t rewrite the bill to bail out the people getting foreclosed on. Wouldn’t that help the average guy, and make the over-valued mortgage backed securities worth more, thereby attacking the root of the problem?

    While the analogy is far from perfect, think of this as flooding on a submarine (which do not have much reserve bouyancy). Damage Control proposes to seal the hatches to the compartment where the flooding is and pressurize the compartment. That will be very hard on the persons in the compartment (almost certainly lethal), but may prevent the loss of the entire boat.

    For a far better analysis, see Tax Prof’s analysis.

  20. Chris Gherrib claims:

    considering how pissy the House Republicans got when Pelosi (accurately) pointed out that some of this was their fault, well, we can’t just call a bribe a bribe.

    Chris seems to have somehow missed the fact that the Democratic Caucus could have passed the Bill with NO Republican votes. As well he seems to have missed both that 40% of the Democratic Caucus voted against the Bill, and that more than enough votes to have carried the Bill were instead cast against by Committee and Subcommittee Chairs who owe their positions entirely to (and at the pleasure of) the Speaker of the House.

    Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain

  21. Hey, why not just euphamise the whole thing out of recognisability? Senate passes Doritos, with dips. Or Senate plays stickball, with friends.

    Hiding behind euphamism is a used-car salesman gimmick. But I’m honestly no longer surprised at any dishonourable, shabby behaviour by any politician.

  22. Rodney — given that this is a turd of a bill, and originally proposed by a Republican administration and that this is an election year, what makes you think that the Dems have any interest in passing this all by themselves and then getting the shit kicked out of them by the Republicans claiming moral high ground? If the Dems weren’t willing to play along with part of their numbers, the Republicans couldn’t pass this at all.

    For all its obvious flaws — and I’m not taking sides as to whether there should or should not be a bill or this bill, there really needs be a bipartisan nature to all this. And the same time, asking people to swallow something this unpalatable AND not comment on how the hell we got in this mess, is asking a bit much. Deal with it, suck it up, or go home.

    I’m going back to my Physics classes, where things still make sense.

    Dr. Phil

  23. I heard a discussion of this on radio this morning, and unless they were totally misinformed, it sounded like the bill that passed the Senate does not actually have any “sweeteners” related to the bailout. The only thing that they added to the bailout is a bump in the FDIC insurance limit from $100K to $250K. The reason that it appears to be “sweetened” is that the Senate is not allowed to vote on appropriations first…they can only vote on appropriations bills that have already passed the House.

    So in order to address the bailout issue, they had to find an existing appropriations bill that had already passed the House, then add the bailout to it and send the revised version back to the House for them to vote on. All of the other portions of this bill (if memory serves, there is a change to AMT limits and mental health funding, among other items) were not added to the bailout as part of bailout deal-making. They were part of the original bill that the Senate tacked the bailout onto.

    So although they often deserve to be accused of bribery and chicanery, in this particular case, it’s actually the false appearance of bribery and chicanery. And sadly, it is not at all surprising that the media and all of us immediately jumped to the conclusion that there was bribery/dealmaking involved, as that is the correct conclusion so much of the time.

  24. Rodney:

    Yes, the Dems could have passed it by themselves, but given the electoral damage that would have done, I’m not surprised a lot opposed it – I’m sure some even did it for principled reasons.

    But they’re not going to hand one of the most winnable elections in recent memory to the republicans in this one, something which some fairly prominent republican bloggers have been suggesting is an excellent tactic:

    “God Himself couldn’t have given rank-and-file Republicans a better opportunity to create political space between themselves and the Administration. That’s why I want to see 40 Republican No votes in the Senate, and 150+ in the House. If a bailout is to pass, let it be with Democratic votes. Let this be the political establishment (Bush Republicans in the White House + Democrats in Congress) saddling the taxpayers with hundreds of billions in debt (more than the Iraq War, conjured up in a single weekend, and enabled by Pelosi, btw), while principled Republicans say “No” and go to the country with a stinging indictment of the majority in Congress.

    …A bailout may be inevitable, but so to can be the political benefit for Congressional Republicans if played correctly.”

    From Andrew Sullivan, quoting Patrick Ruffini (

    So yes, they’re bribes. For the cynical in both parties who think that electoral success matters more than everything else. But if you think that this is all Nancy Pelosi’s fault, you’re deceiving yourself – as far as I can tell, her and Boehner agreed on how many votes each would deliver, and Boehner couldn’t get his rank and file to buy in.

    On a related note, I know its in your consititution and hard to change, but extending the 2 year electoral cycle might help reduce the ridiculously venal nature of House of Reps politics. Nothing gets done if people are always in election mode.

  25. @SnarkyPam (#33): You’re partially right. The Stabalization bill is tacked onto another bill, but the amendment which does it fiddles with many bits an pieces tailored to bribe votes. Here’s a link to the amendment:

    This stinks like… like…

    … like a shit-sausage factory undergoing a meltdown.

  26. Hi John :)

    Loved your observation here. I will be looking forward to hearing John McCain’s explanation for supporting this Piggy Pie we are about to be billed for. “Something Has To be Done.” LOL. It’s already too late to fix things. Something should have been done a couple years ago. Bush telling everyone the economy was strong should have been the first clue. Every time that guy says something is going well, it has actually been the exact opposite. Sheesh. Is he still paying the “Director of Lessons Learned” $100,000 a year? No matter who is elected in November, that office has to go! Lesson Learned!

    Carly :)

  27. Eddie,

    If the majority whip had actually whipped their caucus, especially the Committee and Subcommittee Chairs who are beholden to the Speaker for their positions, the bill would have passed.

    Since it was not whipped, one must conclude one of two things:

    1. Nancy Pelosi is utterly incompetent.

    2. Nancy Pelosi wanted it to fail.

    To which do you ascribe the failure?

  28. Carly,

    Bush, McCain, and the republicans are on record, most notably in 2004 ( see multiple you tube compilations), calling for the reform of freddie and fannie. Heck even Clinton is on record as having been concerned about freddie and fannie.

    The democrats, led by Dodd, Frank, et al are also clearly on record as obstructing any and all attempts to fix the problem or even admit that the problem existed at all.

    The top executives at the F’s during the worst years were all major democrats ( Raines, Johnson, Goerlick, etc)

    Should Bush and MCcain have kicked harder? Sure. However at the time they were spending what little political capital they had left trying not to lose the war in Iraq. That’s not an excuse, but it is reality.

    However the fact that Dodd and Frank are now leading the crafting of the bailout bill is absolute Alice in wonderland territory.

    Obama claims to have been concerned, but his votes and actions clearly say otherwise.

  29. Rodney G. Graves:

    Sorry for getting a little fact into the room, but how about asking when Bohner is going to stop being such a pathetic little whiny bitch blaming Pelosi for over two thirds of House Republicans effectively telling him (and President Bush and candidate McCain) to go fuck themselves? What the hell were the House Republican leadership whipping besides their love monkeys?

    I’m no fan of Pelosi, but really… If she has such evil Sith mind-control powers that she can turn an overwhelming majority of the opposition with a single floor speech, she’s setting her sights too low.

    And just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, under the circumstances, would you hand Henry Paulson — the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, BTW — a 800 billion dollar cheque with vastly expanded powers and next to no oversight? He had to make a better case than “give me your wallet, or else” but I guess sheer competence, or the slightest grip on reality, is a little too much to expect from the Bush Administration at this stage of the game.

  30. Bribes? grease? oh yeah. Wooden arrow makers, rum runners, car makers, hollywood moguls, and community organizers, are all looking at an early christmas, because really if we don’t civilization as we know it will end next week.


    So yes, toss out all of the republicans and democrats who are incurably addicted to bribes and payola while we still have a pot to pee in. Getting rid of Stevens, Young, Byrd, and Murtha alone could fix half of the problem. The fact that all four stand a good chance of being reelected demonstrates that the problem has metastisized well beyond the beltway.

    You may not like it, but McCain is one of the very few politicians who doesn’t put his hand out and ask for bribes on every bill. He gets a lot of grief for it in Arizona, I might add, where they feel he isn’t fighting for their share of the loot. Obama on the other hand has asked for 100’s of millions of dollars worth in his brief stint at the trough, a million dollars a day by some calculations, including dollars for his wife’s employer and for Biden’s son.

    And Barry isn’t taking a pass on this opportunity either. A chunk of this money is slated to go to ACORN, the community group that Obama used to work for and that has been linked to voter fraud efforts in numerous states. A credible argument can be made that by aggressively pushing CRA Acorn and others created the original conditions that made this whole mess possible in the first place.

    Don’t like bribes? Don’t vote for an extortionist.

  31. Craig,

    I’ll take your bait. Pelosi is the Majority leader. She controls the house. She said there was a deal. She brought it to the floor for a vote. No real leader would do so if they didn’t know what the outcome would be, just as no competent lawyer ever asks a question in court that he doesn’t already know the answer to. Pelosi knew that she didn’t have the votes. She made no effort to whip the votes. She told people in advance that she was planning to use the vote against the republicans. Her speech was so over the top that it tipped her hand and alerted the republicans that she was planning to sandbag them. That those republicans sitting on the fence would choose not to go along with the mugging is not surprising.

    If Tom Delay were still in her position do you think he would have come up short?

    Pelosi is guilty of playing the worst sort of partisan politics with this bill. If this is really the crisis that she and others claim it to be, that’s inexcusable.

    There is a reason why congress has an approval rating of 7%.

    Pelosi could have passed this bill without the republicans with 17 votes to spare. With the republican votes her margin was 84. She chose to let the vote fail and the markets drop in order to harm the republicans and help Obama. It worked. But it wasn’t the republican’s fault.

    Reid on the other hand has passed a worse bill, but at least when he announced a deal and scheduled a vote he delivered. No last minute sucker punch.

    Pelosi is the worst speaker ever.

  32. Drew:

    Tom De Lay would have pissed his pants laughing at the minority leadership trying to blame him because they couldn’t get the numbers for a bill. Perhaps Pelosi should have twisted some arms in her own caucus so the GOP would have been irrelevant; perhaps she made the (as it turns out) silly assumption that the House GOP leadership could deliver on their own promises. But watching Boehner trying to blame her for his own incompetence is just embarrasing.

    If you take the spin at face value, then there’s a good chunk of the House Republican caucus who didn’t vote against the bailout on principle, but out of childish pique because Mean Nancy said something rude in a floor speech. That’s not only unforgivable, but pathetic. When exactly was the law changed so children could sit in Congress?

  33. My god, how did the democrats end up with this type of leadership in congress? I about lost my mind when I had to endure that shit sandwich of a speech Harry Reid gave last night right before the Senate vote. And his comment about a ‘big insurance company on the verge of bankruptcy’ turned out to be completely false. His spokesman later said he wasn’t referring to anything specific. Today it widened the credit swaps to record levels of the insurance companies who are still solvent and certainly not ready to fail. Is he an idiot?
    What can we do to get these people out of power? And I mean the current democrats and republicans.

  34. Drew @ 38

    Freddy/Fanny were delt with weeks ago. Even if this pathetic republican spin were accurate, it would mean that the problem was settled weeks ago. Obviously not the case.

    The problem is the derivitive traders, the CD instrument swappers and all the ponzi schemes loosely related to mortgages and items that are worth something but that are themselves worth nothing. Offering short trades on stuff you don’t have and selling those before you have to put up is another phrase for “finding a sucker”.

  35. Nargel,

    Freddy and Fanny have not yet been dealt with. The oversight measures which may have either prevented or ameliorated this crises have not been instituted (and won’t be as long as Barney Frank is calling the shots).

  36. Craig Ranapia,

    The bill was defeated by a dozen votes.

    If all the Committee and Subcommittee chairs had voted aye the bill would have carried. Not may have, not might have, would have.

    Those chairmanships are the Speakers to give and withhold, and they serve at the pleasure of the Speaker of the House. The whip of the Democratic Caucus of the House made NO EFFORT to ensure passage.

    Which gets us back to two choices.

    1. Nancy Pelosi lacks the competence to poor piss out of a boot with instructions written on the heel thereof.

    2. Nancy Pelosy wanted the bill to fail.

    Choose one.

  37. Rodney, you completely misunderstood me.

    I certainly don’t need remedial reading lists on the situation and never claimed to.

    And the point of fact is that the Dems were never going to be 100% behind this bill just as the Republicans were not going to be 100%. However, there was no advantage to the Dems for putting in enough votes by themselves for something as huge as this just weeks before a major election. As for the whole Nancy-is-evil-and-or-dumb storyline, I could point out that had the Republicans delivered their people, those Dems who’d voted against could’ve changed their votes. Perhaps those committee chairs, etc., were making sure that the Dems didn’t vote for it all by their lonesomes by accident. Such a concept doesn’t fit your binary strawman decision tree for Nancy Pelosi, does it?

    My other point was that given the unprecedented nature and size of this bill, the nearly unholy speed being requested to prevent All Doom from descending on us all, I don’t see how it is in human nature not to comment on possible reasons why one has to swallow such a bitter pill. It’s what politicians do — and whether one favors the Democrats or the Republicans or neither or both, the House of Representatives is filled with politicians.

    Had the Dems passed the bill the first time all on their own, they probably would’ve been labeled as evil incarnate, especially in their district races. That they thought there was a deal with the Republicans to “share the blame”, if you will, and that wasn’t happening, now makes the Dems/Nancy Pelosi as eligible for being labeled as evil incarnate because they didn’t play out their hand solo? Gee, that would sort of proves my point, wouldn’t it?

    Of course, having just gotten back to this thread there’s been much more goings on. And haste and need have piled on much more into this bill. And will it be enough? Will it be relevant? Is this a better bill? Aye, there’s the rub.

    And for the record, Physics still makes more sense.

    Dr. Phil

  38. John, before you get off on this rant, can you tell me how many pages were in the original bill (already passed in the Senate 92-3) to which the emergency measure was attached? Can you tell me which of the things in the bill were added over what had already been passed?

    As far as I can tell, the only thing is changing the FDIC limit from $100,000 per account, to $250,000 per person no matter how many accounts they had.

    Well, I guess strictly it’s too late to do it before you get off on the rant, but it’s never too late to think.

  39. The cure is to vote against the team in charge – not every incumbent. If the Democrats are in charge (as they are now), then vote against the Democrat whether incumbent or challenger. If they are in charge it makes no sense to vote for a Democrat challenger against the Republican incumbent. That Democrat would merely reinforce the team in charge. If the Republicans are in charge, then vote against the Republican. Eventually, the people in charge may wise up.

  40. Bribery and Coercion according to Brad Sherman, D-CA:

    The only way they can pass this bill is by creating and sustaining a panic atmosphere. That atmosphere is not justified. Many of us were told in private conversations that if we voted against this bill on Monday, that the sky would fall, the market would drop 2 or 3 thousand points the first day another couple the second day. And a few members were even told that there would be martial law in America if we voted no. That’s what I call fear-mongering. Unjustified. Proven wrong.

    Interesting that the same level of coercion was not applied to the first vote, before the pork fest…

    And Dr. Phil, that still comes down to either playing politics on the first vote, or incompetence, given the level of whipping on the second vote.

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