How to doom bed bug legislation in 4 easy steps

I find myself reading today’s reactions to the Butterfield bed bug bill with the uneasy thought that our own legislators (and we) better turn out to be a lot savvier than this if we hope to get anywhere.

New York vs Bed Bugs doesn’t have a position on H.R. 6068, a bill that would provide annual state grants for hotel inspections. However, we must, a bit in horror, take notice of the errors in judgment, sheer bad luck and, crucially, lack of support that will very likely doom this bill.

We want our own legislators to take steps to stop the spread of bed bugs in New York City—and we have very specific ideas about what those steps should be—and they certainly involve crafting legislation and a compelling narrative to win the support of regular New Yorkers.

Therefore, as part of our education and based on careful observation, herewith 4 easy steps to bed bug legislative doom:

Step #1

With cluelessness aforethought, ensure that your bill is undermined with every mention, before any possible merit can be discerned, much less discussed, by choosing a glib phrase, an instant joke, a juvenile deflection of your embarrassment as the title of your bill.  Name it, because nothing says “kick me” quite like it, The Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2008.

(It occurs to me, you know how there are countries—whether peculiarly enlightened or oppressive not quite our brief today—where there is a list of baby names that parents are not allowed, simply not allowed, to choose for their own children!?  Perhaps something like that is in order, you shall not name your bill…)

Step #2

Sloppily source your findings from Wikipedia. Three-year old facts, who cares!

Step #3

Having carefully framed your bill to invite ridicule, proceed to support its introduction with a defensive, feeble press release.

“Unfortunately, it’s not a joke,” Butterfield said.

Way too late for that, Representative.

Step #4

Ah, the cruelty of the internets. Having done your very best to place your bill in the lowest-wattage light, watch helplessly as Fortuna Mala works it just so, and your lonely bill attains the notice of one Jim Harper, a Cato Institute policy wonk, on his very first week blogging about just how much the government’s legislative ambitions are going to cost us.  Like pure and joyous catnip.

The comments are particularly grim—and the divide between the bedbug-haves and the bedbug-have-nevers fascinating.

Speaking not specifically to this bill but in general on the prospect of useful bed bug legislative proposals at any level of government, I wonder if it’s going to be necessary for more people (but how many more?) to get bed bugs before there is any consensus on the need for concerted action.  Some of us have had the experience of friends or acquaintances who tell us, months after our own infestations, that they have suffered an infestation and that now they understand.  If Jim Harper lived in New York City, would he know more people who have been personally exposed to bed bugs?  Would they tell him?

What a mess this bed bug epidemic is.  The people who know what it’s like don’t talk to the rest of the country.

Final thought: I wonder if Harper knows the Cincinnati-area IRS building had bed bugs?  That would be quite fun to, you know, let drop in conversation with him. ;)


  1. Renee

    Bed bugs have friends in high places.

    Also, it’s interesting and worth remembering that Gale Brewer was ridiculed in the New York Observer for her bed bug bill, way back in 2005. And look at the situation in the city now… and, yet, still no legislation or action, so whatever the magic number is, 3 years, 5 years, we’re not there yet.

  2. Jim Harper

    I appreciate the good humor of this post. I have no particular vendetta against bed bug legislation, but was something close to compelled by item #1 above to make a note of this particular effort.

    What’s that? We can use bedbugs against the IRS?! OK, I’m officially pro-bed bug . . .

  3. Renee

    Jim, I’m sure it was irresistible. You’re a good sport to drop by.

    I would tell you more about the IRS building—and, ahem, the Fox newsroom—but now I no longer feel like spoiling your innocence!

    Good luck with your site.

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