WASHINGTON â€” It wasnâ€™t enough to introduce HR 145 this year. Instead, the Republican-sponsored bill became the Revoke Excessive Policies that Encroach on American Liberties Act. Or for easy reference, the REPEAL Act targeting President Barack Obamaâ€™s health care overhaul.
Congressional bills used to be known by succinct, nonpartisan names â€” say, the Homestead Act or Civil Rights Act. But these days, many lawmakers are opting for partisan stingers that, in the words of a former House historian, â€œpoke the opposition in the eye.â€
This new generation of attack titles is ratcheting up the gamesmanship among lawmakers in both parties who are vying to make their bills stand out from the thousands introduced every year. Some recent examples:
The Reducing Barack Obamaâ€™s Unsustainable Deficit Act (it died in the last session); the Big Oil Welfare Repeal Act (it has languished in committee); and the Reversing President Obamaâ€™s Offshore Moratorium Act (it passed the Republican-run House, but even if approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to get you-know-whoâ€™s signature).
Lawmakers have long used catchy names and acronyms for bills. Controversy over Bruce Springsteen concert ticket sales two years ago prompted the BOSS Act for Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing. But now, the titles increasingly hammer home a political point of view.
â€œThe fact is that everything on Capitol Hill has become incredibly polarized along partisan lines, and members of each side of the aisle try to take advantage of anything they can get their hands on to outflank their opponents,â€ said Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University.
â€œSo itâ€™s logical that eventually even the name of bills would be another mechanism to stick it to the other party.â€
The titles can be real mouthfuls, like the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, or REINS, Act, a Republican-sponsored bill to limit the executive branchâ€™s regulatory authority. Then thereâ€™s the Democratic-written Repealing Ineffective and Incomplete Abstinence-Only Program Funding Act. Neither has made it to a vote.
The trend toward partisan names would seem counterproductive because bills typically stand a better chance of passing if they attract bipartisan support.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a 36-year House veteran, complained that the partisan-named bills, like those that target the president, are â€œnot substantiveâ€ because â€œtheyâ€™re just a vehicle for a message.â€ Lawmakers
tend to lament the lack of bipartisanship in Congress, but then â€œthey fuel itâ€ with bill names, he said. â€œItâ€™s just not helpful.â€
But winning approval isnâ€™t necessarily the point.
â€œIt would not be good legislative strategy,â€ said Art Rynearson, who retired after 27 years of drafting legislation in the Senate legislative counselâ€™s office, â€œbut might be good politics.â€
Not to mention an effective communication tool.
â€œIf Republicans can take a silly name like the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act and make it stick, theyâ€™ve helped communicate its meaning and importance to audiences theyâ€™re trying to reach,â€ said Jim Harper, the Cato Instituteâ€™s director of information policy studies, whose blog WashingtonWatch.com tracks legislation.