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Memorable Titles Help Sell Policy

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Rep. Joe Barton says that acronyms are part of the language in D.C. The Texas Republican was the chief sponsor of the BULB Act, which seeks to repeal certain light bulb efficiency standards.

It’s not surprising that a city colloquially known as “D.C.” is fond of acronyms.

On any given day in Washington, the head of the GPO could put in a call to the CBO to get an update on a report about a DOT bill (supported by the likes of the AAA) that includes language about the USACE.

Acronym fever is particularly high on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are always trying to condense their bill titles into catchy — and hopefully persuasive — acronyms.

One of the most well-known bill acronyms is the USA PATRIOT Act, or the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, which was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some say the acronym helped ensure the law passed.

“There was very little opposition to the PATRIOT Act,” said Julian Zelizer, a Congressional historian at Princeton University. “No one wants to vote against something that’s patriotic.”

The acronym trend started more than 20 years ago.

One of the first bills with an intended acronym was the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or the WARN Act of 1988, according to a 2005 research paper by University of Washington law librarian Mary Whisner. She found about 22 acronymic bills dated from 1988 to 2003.

Among previously introduced bills with acronyms are the SCAMS Act, or the Senior Citizens Against Marketing Scams Act, the CAN-SPAM Act, or the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, and the MATCH Act, or the Managing Arson Through Criminal History Act.

There’s a bill acronym for everything and everyone.

For animal lovers, there’s the CHIMP Act, or the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act.

For grease monkeys, there’s the CARS Act, or the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act. It generated the Cash for Clunkers program in 2009.

And for college fraternity boys, there is the recently introduced BEER Act, or the Brewer’s Employment and Excise Tax Relief Act. The legislation is designed to help cut taxes for smaller brewers.

Of course, these acronyms aren’t always representative of the bills or legislative priorities that they describe. In fact, the bill acronyms sometimes have nothing to do with the policy.

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) recently introduced the STEAM Act, which stands for the Stripping the E-Prescribe Arbitrary Mandates Act.

The legislation, which has nothing to do with vaporized water, would help lessen penalties on doctors and hospitals that cannot yet implement certain parts of the electronic health records program.

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