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Hatch’s catchy acronyms can backfire

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WASHINGTON — He may have floundered in his campaign for president. He may be a mere senator in most people's eyes. But Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is truly the king — of writing acronyms into the titles of legislation.

I thought of that again last week when the Senate was debating his SB2290, popularly called the FAIR Act — an acronym for the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act. It would have created a $124 billion government-run fund to compensate asbestos victims with money from companies seeking to end lawsuits.

For four days as I monitored Senate debate, the repetition of that name worked almost like subliminal advertising on me. Senators kept saying "the FAIR Act does this," and "the FAIR Act does that." It seemed more like a description than a name, so who wouldn't think it was fair after hearing that constantly?

Unfortunately for Hatch, every Democrat in the Senate (except maverick Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga.) considered it an UNFAIR act and blocked it with a procedural vote that would have needed a three-fifths majority to pass. (They want more money for victims and contend Hatch is offering a bailout to asbestos companies and insurers).

Still, it shows that Hatch, who says (and sometimes looks like) he is a bit of an insomniac, may stay up late at night to craft such acronyms — and he uses the resulting beneficial-sounding names as a weapon in his fight for public opinion.

A further example is another bill that was in the spotlight last week, SB1545, the DREAM Act (for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act).

That bill would clearly allow giving instate college tuition rates to illegal aliens who entered the country before age 16, and would allow them to earn citizenship as they earn a degree. It would also make them eligible for many federal grants and loans.

Several hundred illegal aliens dressed in caps and gowns gathered to rally in favor of the bill on the Capitol lawn last week. Hatch's acronym allowed them to carry signs such as, "Congress please let us DREAM," or "I won't sleep until Congress passes the DREAM Act."

Of course, critics say it would be a nightmare of a law that would encourage more illegal immigration — showing that catchy acronyms can be made to backfire.

Here are some more of Hatch's acronymic bills. I warn that some of the wording does not exactly match the acronym supposedly produced. Maybe no aides wanted to point that out to a semi-sleep-deprived senator:

SB151, Prosecuting Remedies and Tools Against the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act, which would help protect children. (By my reading, the real acronym would come out misspelled as the PRTAECT Act, but I am just a journalist and have never been into creative writing like song lyricist Hatch.)

SB505, Clean Efficient Automobile Resulting From Advanced Car Technologies (CLEAR) Act, to help clear pollution. (Again, to me that looks like the CEARFACT Act, but maybe the exhaust from old-style cars — unlike the electric and hydrogen cars the bill promotes — clouded my vision.)

SB1609, Parental Responsibility Obligations Met through Immigration System Enforcement (PROMISE) Act. (His better acronyms seem to deal with immigration.)

SB2192, Cooperative Research And Technology Enhancement (CREATE) Act. (Again, it looks like CRATE to me, but I better box up that criticism.)

SB1177, Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act. (Since cigarettes come in packs, it seems he should have found a word that means "trafficking" that begins with a "K." I didn't realize how hard that is until I tried. I couldn't find one. Maybe he couldn't either.)

I found one inadvertent acronym among Hatch's bills. Of course, he does not try to create acronyms out of all titles — just those where it might be politically advantageous. In those instances, he clearly writes out the acronym plainly for all to see.

One bill without a pointed-out acronym is his Medicare Educational Regulatory Reform and Contracting Improvement Act. I read that as the MERRCI Act, as in someone saying, "Mercy, please, I can't take all these acronyms."

Maybe we should propose the ACRONYM Act, for Acronym Creativity Really Only Needles Your Mind, encouraging other more useful creative writing instead.


Deseret Morning News Washington correspondent Lee Davidson can be reached by e-mail at lee@desnews.com