During one part of Thursday's lengthy Senate debate over the immigration bill two Republican senators opposing the effort - Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Mike Lee of Utah - carried on an extended exchange. They both agreed that the negotiating process that led to the bill as well as its length were not fitting for the U.S. Senate. Holding a copy of the bill in his hands, Sessions compared it to how the Affordable Care Act of 2010 was passed.
In discussing the legislative process that led to Obamacare, Sessions said, "We were told, 'Well, you gotta pass it to find what's in it.' " (A link to the video is here.)
The senator was referencing a remark by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi during the debate over health-care reform. She indeed did say, "But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it." The quote spread like wildfire among Obamacare opponents, for whom the soundbite sounded like the back of the hand of an elitist lawmaker.
However, that's not all she said. The fuller quote went this way:
"You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket. Prevention, prevention, prevention — it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting. But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it, away from the fog of the controversy."
Was it a savvy way for a politician to describe the process? Not at all, especially the part about passing the bill to find out what's in it. (By the way, it sounds remarkably similar to this famous quote by a Democratic lawmaker running for president in 2004. All these years later it still sounds clueless, right?)
However, and this point extends far beyond Sen. Sessions and his throwaway line in the middle of a lengthy debate, politicians are often the biggest sticklers for putting their own words into the proper context. Often though, that's not the case when it comes to the words of others.