Like Sausage, You Don’t Want to Know ( but you need to) How Legislation Gets Made

“Supposing is good, but finding out is better.”

Mark Twain

If you were a fan of Sherman and Mr. Peabody you remember the Way Back Machine.  It allowed a brainy dog and his slightly befuddled boy to journey back into the pages of  history to revisit past events.  Because this was the cartoon world, the two were able to influence and change what history would be going forward.  What a great gadget!


If there was a real Way Back Machine, one that would let the sound horse community revisit the final days of the last congressional session and find out why the PAST Act never made it to the floor for a vote, chances are people would clamor to climb aboard, especially in view of the fact that PAST has been reintroduced into the Senate as S1121, and everyone seems to think that he or she  alone knows what happened the last time.  


There have been persistent narratives assigning blame for the failure.    Silence about what happened on the Hill allowed speculation to   develop into a storyline, complete with suspicions about actions taken or not taken.  People that were pumped up  felt let down with a thump when no vote came. Surely, there had to be someone or something to blame.


The observation that  “a house divided against itself can not stand” is more than potent; it’s prescient.  The performance people learned this lesson years ago. No matter their personal animosities or the failures of its “leaders”, when it comes to their only   issue, saving the big lick horse and the performance industry, they stand together in public as solid and as durable as the Great Wall of China. They also  live in hope that   the sound horse people will fall into factions, once again, and dilute the excellent  impact that is being made in rallying the public and in reaching the media. This has been a predictable pattern in the decades long history of the effort to end soring.  


If there’s going to be any public talk this time around from various    anti-soring coalitions about disassociating, let it be the sort of  talk that has shown good results in 2015.   Let it be  about disassociating charities from horse shows identified with abusive training practices, not about refusing to associate with each other or to understand the efforts that are being made by everyone involved in order  to address the only issue of importance: Soring Must Stop.


With the PAST Act now reintroduced in the Senate, advocates must be fully informed about what it takes to bring legislation up for a vote. First, a reality check. What happened to PAST behind the scenes wasn’t pretty in 2014; it won’t be any easier in 2015. 


The cast of characters in opposition to the point of view of the general public and sound horse advocates, Alexander, Blackburn, DesJarlais, Boehner, Paul, remains the same.  In addition, the Senate is now being run by long- term big lick supporter and big receiver of their campaign contributions, Mitch McConnell (R-KY).  He signed on to Alexander’s alternate legislation bill last year and will certainly give it support when it is again  reintroduced.

Even as Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte has been steadfast on the issue and is responsible for reintroducing PAST this session, McConnell’s alliance with Senator Alexander sends a personal message to his fellow Republicans.  Ayotte has been joined in her reintroduction of PAST   by co-lead Senator Warner and by  original bi-partisan co-sponsors,  Senators Toomey,Vitter, Kirk, Collins, Daines, Feinstein, Peters, Blumenthal, McCaskill, and Markey.




In DC savvy players know that money is the lubricant that gets things done. Contributions made through various funds, PACs, donations etc., are all legal. They aren’t given out of kindness of heart; they are intended to buy access and influence. In this game, the performance crowd is way ahead of well meaning and hardworking  sound horse supporters.


Being on the moral high side in opposition to a million dollar “business” is comforting but it doesn’t cut much swath when high dollar, high performers whisper in the right ears, through lobbyists and PR firms, that they are being lied about, discriminated against, and put out of business.   


Because the money going to elected officials from the sound side has always been small potatoes, the positive efforts being undertaken by various groups and individuals for  the anti-soring position  must be viewed as a long rather than a short ball game.  Actions must be framed in terms of working together, keeping the public informed about the issue, and building increasing support for change. Winning the war  is too important to sideline any players that can bring anything to bear on passing PAST.


Long ball means reintroduction of PAST in 2015, as has been done, and, if necessary, reintroduction in 2017 because bills carry through a two -year Congress.   It means reintroduction ad infinitum until this  legislation is passed and the Horse Protection Act is meaningfully amended.


How was PAST fouled in 2014? While there was some misunderstanding of process  on the sound side of the dugout there was   a clear understanding by the opposition bench  of how the game would be played to perfection  in the end stages by elected officials supportive of  their cause. The goal    was to ensure that PAST did not get to the floor for a vote.


The past can’t be changed but, to influence the future,  an understanding of what really  happened in 2014 is needed.  Climb  aboard the time travel machine   and let’s go back, way back, to ask the big question: how was it that PAST, the bill that had more bipartisan support than most any bill introduced in the 113th Congress, a bill that achieved a filibuster- proof number of co-sponsors in the Senate, with a hearing in the House and approval in the key Senate committee, never got its moment in the sun? 


The problem was not with the  grassroots people who  did phenomenal work   to get that co-sponsorship “ majority of the majority” (this meant that a majority of Hose Republicans signed on as co-sponsors and were prepared to vote a certain way) on record in the House, but it was still necessary for Speaker Boehner to bring the bill to the floor.  He wouldn’t do it. 


Getting the majority of the majority in the House was only one obstacle on the course that PAST had to navigate.  The same was true for getting a filibuster- proof majority of co-sponsors in the Senate. Achieving these goals was meaningful but no guarantee that PAST would be brought up for a vote.  Yet, without these accomplishments there was NO chance; with them a chance was possible but chance, by definition,  is far from certainty. 


Enter the sausage makers, the part of the legislative process  that was skimmed over in civics class when your teachers talked about the public will and democracy in action  as an integral part of a republic.  Here’s what went down in 2014.






Ø  In the House, leadership apparently rebuffed personal requests by several Republican Representatives to bring the PAST Act to the floor as a freestanding bill. 

Ø  Leadership blocked Rep. Whitfield ( R-KY)  from offering PAST as an amendment to the Farm Bill (H.R. 1947). 

Ø  The PAST Act got a committee hearing in November 2013, but committee leadership didn’t push the bill forward in the face of vocal opposition by committee member Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), instead Blackburn sponsored her own legislation at the behest of big lick interests, that came bearing campaign donation gifts.

Ø  In the Senate, bipartisan committee approval did come in April 2014 (with the invaluable help of the co-sponsorship of the top Republican on the committee). 

Ø  A Congressional Budget Office score one month later showed that the PAST Act would result in no additional taxpayer burden, a key issue in the current budget climate. 

Ø  But, despite concerted efforts by the sponsors and other stakeholders, the committee report languished in limbo   and was not filed until September 15, a scant three months before the end of the congressional session.  

Ø   The PAST Act could not be called up for floor consideration on its own until the committee report was filed.

Three basic routes to getting a bill to the floor were actively pursued.   

·       Offering a floor amendment to another bill – The amendment must first be considered germane to the underlying legislation. 

·       The Senate took up so few bills in 2014 that finding something to attach to was a challenge; when a vehicle was identified where the PAST Act could be seen as germane, action on that legislation stalled and there was no chance for amendments to be added.

·        A “do-nothing” Congress means that nothing gets done and that opportunities to actually get something done on this issue   were sidetracked.


·       Getting approval by Unanimous Consent (UC) – This is the traditional way to pass smaller bills in the Senate, having the Democratic and Republican cloak rooms run a “hotline” to see if any of the 100 Senators object to the bill.

·        In recent years, it has become increasingly difficult to get bills through by UC.  With a few legislators in the pocket of the performance crowd, this track was a long-shot, and became even more so when a handful of Senators publicly joined on the sham “alternative” bill, S. 2193, to codify the status quo of industry self-regulation and actually make it worse.

·        Leaving no stone unturned, a hotline was still  requested.  As anticipated, the bill cleared the Democratic side, but did not clear the Republican side. That killed Unanimous Consent as a strategy.


·       Getting “floor time” to have the legislation considered as a free-standing bill – Because Senate procedures are intricate and afford naysayers ample opportunities to block action, floor time is typically reserved for large packages, not smaller individual bills. 

·       The Majority Leader will often have to file for cloture (to cut off the debate) and once that “ripens” a few days later, if 60 votes are obtained, a bill can then proceed to be considered. 

·       But opponents can then seek a barrage of amendments – some germane, others wholly unrelated and on controversial issues – and refuse to agree to each stage of subsequent action, forcing repeated cloture votes at every procedural turn so the process can drag on for many days or weeks.  When faced with a ticking clock, running the clock is a good strategy if you are a politician  opposed  to a bill.

·       Although attempts were made to have the PAST Act voted on this way because free-standing bills cannot be considered without a filed committee report, which in the case of PAST didn’t happen until very late in the session (September 15th, 2014), the time was too short in view  of the other issues that were fighting for air space in the Senate.

·       Then, the Senate recessed for the pre-election campaigning season. (Getting re-elected is the one thing upon which all in Congress can agree.) The follow-on lame-duck session afforded limited opportunity for prolonged floor time for consideration of the PAST Act.

·       Majority Leader Reid was urged to attempt this. 

·       Personal appeals were made and letters from the HSUS were written to both Leader Reid and Speaker Boehner. The letters were also released to the media in an attempt to elevate attention to PAST in the final weeks of the session.


Throughout the 2014 legislative process an extraordinary endorsement list continued to be built to show support for PAST. The AVMA, the AAEP, the ASPCA, the AHC, and the HSUS worked in co-operation to reach out, secure, and demonstrate an unprecedented level of support for the bill. Endorsements came from horse organizations, medical professionals, equestrian professionals, celebrities, Olympic athletes, and many others.  A strong, steady drumbeat of media coverage was secured and grass roots efforts were appreciated, encouraged, and assisted by all of these organizations when help was requested or needed.  The grassroots' organized and paid for  "Walk On Washington" that brought the issue to the very center of Washington, DC.


This nationwide outpouring of support, some of it from very unexpected places, was mind blowing but it wasn’t enough to blow away the behind- the -scenes recalcitrance of a handful of Tennessee and Kentucky legislators who, with a single hold, could    put a bill on an ice floe and make the work of years moot.  Bottom line: Despite three years worth of investment and daily work on this issue by so many people, despite overwhelming support in the House and in the Senate, despite the public's support,  a few elected officials ran the clock out on PAST last session.


Former Senator Joe Tydings, the original author of the Horse Protection Act still in force, got it right when he addressed the post-session frustration of advocates who thought that passage of the PAST Act was going to be a sure thing after all the work that had been accomplished.  When a circular firing squad was launched on social media trying to blame someone other than the actual politicians responsible for orchestrating PAST away, he crisply reminded one and all: “It took me three years to get my original bill up for a vote and I did not have nearly the opposition we have today.” 


Passing legislation takes time and it takes commitment. It also takes resources of many kinds, including education and media coverage, public interest and  outrage, grass roots campaigns, and help from recognized  organizations who have the  resources, contacts, and experience in the legislative process to work the Hill. 




Like making sausage, passing legislation is inherently messy.  There’s no need  to make it more  so. There are no strategic or tactical reasons for feeding  people and groups,  who are  on the same side of the issue and should be   working  together,  into the grinder.  That won’t be  happening  on the big lick side of the divide; it can’t be allowed to happen on the sound side. 


With or without the Way Back Machine, no single person or group is going to get the PAST Act passed without help from all the others involved in the effort ; it’s going to take a village, the whole village, to get this done in Congress.

The effort to get PAST passed  began again on April 28, 2015.   Look to Senator Alexander ( R-TN)  to introduce his own legislation on the issue in the near future.