The Washington Post

Congress and acronyms: A tortured love affair

Washington loves nothing more than a steaming bowl of alphabet soup.

Inside the Capitol, alphabet soup is always served. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Legislation setting up savings accounts for disabled people called the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act sounds far catchier when it goes by its initials, ABLE. And even though the title of another bill, Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, is vague, it prevailed based, we assume, on its colorful acronym, REINS.

Why the name game? Aides say it can help a bill stand out in a sea of “Dear Colleague” letters. A spokeswoman for Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), the lead sponsor of the ABLE bill, says a version of the bill has been around for several Congresses under different names. The new name, she says, helps “to focus on the goals of the bill.”

And others say it can help communicate clearly what a bill does (i.e., the REINS act would rein in the executive branch’s power) without getting bogged down in policy. Get it?

Sometimes, a clever title is a marketing ploy aimed at the American people.

Think of the USA PATRIOT Act (much easier to remember than the mouthful that is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act).

Why, voting against a bill like that would be downright unpatriotic.

Not everyone’s a fan, and there’s plenty of eye-rolling among Hill staffers. Former Senate aide Rodell Mollineau, who’s now president of American Bridge 21st Century, says he’s generally against acronyms, most of which are “just Washington types trying to be too cute by half.”

Have a favorite acronym you’d like to nominate to the Hall of Acronym Shame? We’ll kick it off by humbly submitting SAFETEA-LU, a.k.a. the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, which Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) named in honor of his wife, Lula.

He should have stuck with flowers.

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