What is the purpose of Congress proposing and debating bills? Ideally, it’s to pass legislation that would help the country run effectively. But sometimes we treat it like a party score card – a running total of partisan one-upmanship – and media feeds into it. This happened with news coverage of the tax bill.
Three of the outlets suggest that Republicans and the president really need a win with this bill because they’ve failed to gain legislative “victories,” and The Hill emphasizes that the party needs to “sell” the bill. The effect of this is twofold: (1) it implies the bill is flawed and won’t garner support on its own merits, and (2) it reinforces the idea that legislating is more about winning than about serving the country. Let’s look at both.
Needing to “sell” the bill
“Republicans launch into sales push for tax plan” (The Hill, headline)
“House Republicans have rolled out their long-awaited tax reform bill. Now they have to sell it.” (The Hill, lead sentence)
… Speaker Paul Ryan “continued pitching the bill.” (The Hill)Ryan and other Republicans introduced the bill, spoke about some of its proposed benefits and explained why they supported it. Describing that process as “selling” or “pitching” the plan suggests the legislative process is about making sales, not serving the public. It also could imply that the bill needs to be “sold,” or that it won’t get support on its own. This could promote a bias against the bill based on a subjective opinion rather than helping people form their own opinions after critical evaluation of its details.
The GOP “needs” a win
Republicans released a bill to “deliver deep tax cuts that President Donald Trump has promised, setting off a frantic race in Congress to give him his first major legislative victory.” (Reuters)
“…lawmakers are desperate for a victory after the Obamacare repeal failed.” (Politico)
“The pressure is on Republicans to deliver a major legislative win to President Trump, especially after their failure to repeal ObamaCare earlier this year.” (The Hill)Who’s keeping score, and what are we measuring? The public and media can and should hold elected officials accountable and ensure that they are working to pass legislation to run the country and address problems under their purview. But that isn’t quite the same as categorizing legislative “victories” or “wins” by party.
Keeping score in that way could influence political priorities and may encourage divisiveness. In other words, it could make it seem as if getting more “wins” than the other party is more important than cooperating to enact laws that best serve the public. In turn, members of the public who identify with a party, may learn to concern themselves more with their side winning than whether Congress is passing beneficial legislation.
Jens Erik Gould
Jens is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News