The American people can see that Congress is broken. As a nation, we are facing about $29 trillion in debt while Congress seems intent on spending even more. Another pervasive problem in Washington is Congress doling out favors to special interest groups in the form of money and legislation favoring one industry over another. One way they do this is to surreptitiously hide special interest-targeted legislation in enormous bills that end up passing Congress. This type of legislation is referred to as Trojan Horse legislation.
We all know the story of the Trojan Horse used by the Greeks to sack Troy back in 1184 B.C. During the decade-long Trojan War, the Greeks could not defeat and occupy the city of Troy. After years of failure, they decided to construct a large wooden horse to give Troy to as a victory gift and loaded it up with Greek warriors. The Trojans dragged the wooden horse into the walls of Troy while the Greek army pretended to sail away. That evening, the Greek warriors exited the Trojan Horse and successfully defeated the Trojans. The result was that the Greeks destroyed Troy to end that war.
Trojan Horse legislation is similar. We see thousands of pages of legislation akin to a giant Trojan Horse with a dangerous provision hidden in the bill that ends up benefitting a special interest while harming the populace at large. Legislation pending before Congress right now, President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, is the latest Trojan Horse measure hiding surreptitiously embedded pieces of legislation that will benefit many special interests.
Let’s bring this down to real life. Half of my family wear contacts. In this bill hides a “Trojan Horse” that will directly raise costs and decrease competition for contact lenses wearers in America and it’s unnecessary.
The provision I’m highlighting is being watched closely to make sure it is not buried into the Biden reconciliation measure is a version of the Contact Lens Prescription Verification Modernization Act (CLPVMA). This legislation, which creates unnecessary barriers to prescription verification, will weaken the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA). The FCLCA was passed to open markets and allow contact lens-wearing consumers to shop outside of an optometrist’s office. The impact of that law was a proliferation of competition and convenience in the provision and sale of lenses that led to lower prices for consumers and more choice.
A Federal Trade Commission rule renewed last year, continues access for consumers to shop for contact lenses outside a prescribing optometrist’s office. Optometry is one of the few professions where the person prescribing also has the ability to sell what they prescribe. This creates a conflict of interest where it is in the financial interest of the prescribing optometrist to literally force the consumer to shop from them. The lobby for optometrists would have you believe that the inconvenience of verifying prescriptions slows optometrist’s work and increases their costs, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Incidentally, optometrists caused this problem themselves by ignoring the law and instead propagated and protected a profession that has a horrible record of automatically providing prescriptions to consumers.
Proponents of the CLPVMA worry that their legislative attempt to gut consumer protection for contact lens consumers can’t pass through the House and Senate as a free-standing bill, so they are pivoting to the Trojan Horse strategy to hide their provision in a much larger bill. The most likely target is now the Biden reconciliation measure that will carry several special interest provisions scattered in the thousands of pages of legislative text expected to be produced in the next few weeks for Congress to review.
The policy problem is that a special interest wants to severely diminish if not eliminate the ability of contact lens consumers to shop wherever they want. This provision would prohibit an accurate, easy, and efficient prescription verification method, thereby making it more likely that the consumer will purchase higher-priced lenses in their optometrist’s office.
The FCLCA was put in place back in 2003 because optometrists were not automatically giving prescriptions to consumers. The remedy was to pass a law that allowed contact lens retailers the ability to place prescription verification calls to prescribers to verify the existence and accuracy of a prescription. The CLPVMA is an attempt by optometrists to roll back this consumer-friendly law and eliminate these verification calls and instead give optometrists more leeway and opportunity to skirt federal law.
We don’t see Congress taking up legislation, one idea at a time, because Congress has resorted to piling many issues together to bulldoze massive bills through both the House and the Senate. This results in an opportunity for even more Trojan Horse provisions to make their way into thousand-page bills. This is what happens when Congress is broken and chooses to use massive legislative vehicles to pass multiple and distinct policy ideas into law that cover a wide range of issues.
When they do so, they provide an opportunity for special interests to insert provisions into these bills that will hurt Americans while enriching special interest groups. Congress needs to stop the Trojan Horse legislation that has diminished the reputation of the House and the Senate while getting back to legislating issue by issue.