Point: Abortive 'Mortgage Foreclosure' Bill — Postmortem of a Tempest in a Teapot?

What on earth happened during the last forty-eight hours on the so-called “mortgage foreclosure” bill?


Earlier in the week, it seemed no one outside of wonky Washington policy circles had heard of — or cared about — the bill. And then it became a political hot potato that led the Wall Street Journal’s website, and caused the liberal blogosphere to become little short of apoplectic. By midday yesterday, John Carney’s report on the story included an excerpt from a blog post on the White House website explaining that the president would not be signing the bill into law.

So what happened here?

With the current well-known climate of political hostility in Washington — it seems every other story about the legislative agenda mentions “partisanship” and “polarization” or even “divisiveness” — how did a bipartisan bill pass with such little notice?

HR 3808, the Interstate Notarization Act, passed the House by voice vote, meaning there were no objections — from either Democrats or Republicans — on the bill. No member of the House found the bill controversial enough to request a roll call vote, where members could go on record for or against it. In the Senate, the bill passed by a similar mechanism called universal consent, meant to expedite the least controversial legislative measures — if a single senator had objected to the request for universal consent, it would have been rejected. And yet the bill sailed through both houses without opposition.

So you have to ask yourself this question: If a single member of Congress — on either side of the aisle or in either house — had seen the slightest opportunity to make political hay over the optics of the bill ahead of the hotly contested November mid-term elections, why wouldn’t they have done so?

Sources close to one of the Democratic co-sponsors of the bill tell me that the intention was merely to standardize the treatment of notarized documents across state lines, bringing current notarization practices into line with the Interstate Commerce Clause. I have yet to see any evidence to doubt that assertion.

The National Journal, which ranks members of congress based on their voting records to determine how liberal or conservative they are, has given two of the three democratic co-sponsors of the bill economic liberalness rankings in the high or mid seventies. (To put that rating in perspective, the most economically liberal members of the house received a ranking of 82; the most conservative are ranked at zero.) The point is this: The Democratic co-sponsors of this bill are hardly the type who are regularly accused of being shills for the financial services industry — or of being doctrinaire supply siders.

Things are not always what they appear to be — but sometimes they are. Perhaps the Interstate Notarization Act is every bit as dull as it seems. While some intrepid investigative journalist may yet uncover a vast financial conspiracy behind the bill it doesn’t seem a likely outcome.

» Read John Carney's counterpoint

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