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Do The Ends Justify The Means?

It is called The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 (H.R. 4173).

This is a bill that has been passed by the House of Representatives, and is coming up soon for vote in the Senate. According to the bill’s summary, this bill is …

“To provide for financial regulatory reform, to protect consumers and investors, to enhance Federal understanding of insurance issues, to regulate the over-the-counter derivatives markets, and for other purposes.”

Here’s the skeptical angle: since its passing by the House in December 2009, Congressman Henry Waxman has inserted an amendment to the bill that gives the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to regulate the dietary supplement industry, which is currently under the “watchful eye” of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) via the existing legislation, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).

If the bill passes the Senate, the bill will go back to the House for another vote with any amendments that the Senate comes up with, along with Representative Waxman’s amendment. Upon re-passing in the House with the amendments, it will go to The President’s desk for his signature, thereby becoming the law of the land. 

On its own merit, that is to say, standing on its own as its own bill, the Waxman amendment does not have the votes to pass. This is precisely why bills become amendments that get attached to more popular legislations – they piggy back themselves into law on legislation that is likely to pass.

I find myself in a quandary. I know that the attempt to regulate the vitamin industry through DSHEA (which became law in 1994) has been a failure. In the words of Steven Novella:

“Simply put, DSHEA is pro-industry, anti-consumer regulation. It has established a system in which companies are functionally not held accountable for the safety of their products or the claims that they make for them, and there is no incentive to fund meaningful research. DSHEA should be repealed. The concept of structure and function claims should be abolished. Also, the idea of allowing companies to decide for themselves whether or not their product is a drug or a supplement must be eliminated.”

However, I am a believer and supporter of laws, and I am also a strong proponent of open government. I am against sneaking bills into law on the coat tails of other bills. I agree with the opponents of this bill that the method is sneaky and underhanded.

And I also understand that this is a fundamental problem with how our political culture has evolved. The Framers of The Constitution never intended these kinds of methods and measures for our Congress to make laws. Yet here we are, and this is how laws in the United States get passed these days.

So what do I do? Do I stand up and cheer that that tighter regulation of the dietary supplement industry under the authority of the FTC is on a path to becoming a reality? Or do I stand up and protest the means being used to achieve this public good?

Do the ends justly the means?

7 comments to Do The Ends Justify The Means?

  • John Powell

    Stand up and cheer – people are being hurt right now, and this help that they need.

  • halincoh

    Excellent post, Evan. I have for a very long time hated this form of game playing by our law makers. It is indeed a conundrum. As always, life comes in shades of gray and, as always, games are played between the margins. That said, to me, the ends SOMETIMES justify the means, but everything would have to be carefully placed on my moral balance before my deciding on the ENDS alone. I like to think I prefer all options on the straight and narrow before resorting to pulling rabbits from hats or shoving tag a long bills onto a more passable one.

  • Onoratoni

    I would support both. Protesting the way THIS bill is being passed will only hurt the bill in the long run. I think you must protest the practice of passing bills using the “Hitch Hike” technique. You would also be able to support the bill and what it stand for.

  • petrucio

    I’m completely against this type of piggy backing of laws. It’s the same system that brought the stupid Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into the SAFE Port Act, and I do agree with the opponents of this bill, regardless of it’s contents.

    Any piece of legislation should come into being through proper ways. We as skeptics value intellectual honesty so much – and this could be easily described as democratic dishonesty, and should not be condoned.

  • I admire your principled stand. I’m in complete agreement Evan; however, the conundrum we find ourselves in is that the game seems to necessitate such tactics. The partisan state of affairs dictates that party interests trump the people’s interests. A bill, regardless of merit, is bitterly contested by the opposing party simply based on the belief that a victory for “them” (D or R) is a loss for “us” (D or R), even if it is in the best interest of everyone’s constituents. In such a system, principled people will never prosper. In the here and now, corporate interests supersede the people’s interests. Do we stand aside and let unprincipled legislators push the corporate agenda at the cost of the people? Anyways, principles do not seem to matter – is this a time to lay down?

  • eean

    Do you really think the framers didn’t intend for this sort of thing? Have you done a study of 18th century House of Commons and the various legislatures of the America colonies?

    I haven’t, but I would assume such legislative intrigues date straight back to the Roman Republic and are just a normal part of how laws have always been created.

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