On Friday, the ABC News blog The Note reported that a letter sent to Nevada senator John Ensign from the chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (a nonpartisan arm of Congress) discussed what the tax code says about a willful failure to file, pay, and maintain appropriate tax records. In the (handwritten) missive—obtained by ABC, and viewable here (PDF)—Thomas Barthold told Ensign that “the taxpayer may be charged with a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $25,000 and not more than one year in jail.” Certainly seeing the actual legislative language about the tax penalties would clarify the issue before “going to jail” replaces “death panels” as the new bogeyman.
Are the Dems in a hurry to spit a bill out before the public finds out what’s in it? They argued that they could not wait the two weeks it would take for the committee staff to post a bill online and for the CBO to evaluate it, accusing Republicans of engaging in a stalling tactic. Maybe so. But there’s a larger issue here: the public’s right to know about legislation that requires them to buy health insurance—with, no less, the U.S. Congress having the final say over what they can afford to pay and how much of their income will have to go to coverage before they can apply for public subsidies.
Are the Democrats tone-deaf? Our CJR Town Halls show that people are confused and not very knowledgeable about what the legislation—being rushed to the finish line—means for them. Many want to know more. Last week, two polls seconded what we are finding anecdotally. In a New York Times/CBS News poll, about 60 percent of those polled said they found the health reforms under discussion confusing. A survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports shows widespread dissatisfaction with leaders of both major political parties. “People feel they’re not being listened to,” said Scott Rasmussen, president of the polling organization. He explained that it adds up to a lot of frustration for voters who would like to “get involved in the decision-making process in a meaningful way,” and concluded: “I think there’s a group of people that are reaching the point that they don’t know what to do.”
To rectify that, the press needs to push the Senate Finance Committee and the rest of Congress to keep their constituents involved in the decision-making process. Really, it’s the least they can do.