The $700 billion bailout bill became a $850 billion bailout bill. How did this happen?
The real story of where bills are born:
Most legislation is drafted by the congressional leadership or the President's staff. So that means usually the majority leaders and the President. That's about 10 people that winds up usually being responsible for creating all legislation for the entire county. (You might have though it was 536 people = (100 senators + 435 House Members + 1 President))
How congressmen really vote:
The leadership tells average congressmen how to vote. The average congressman has a hundred long bills on his desk at any one time to review in a short amount of time before a vote. Even with a full staff, a congressman can't possibly read them all and scrutinize them. But they also get a list of recommendations on how they should vote from their congressional leaders. If they vote against those recommendations, there are usually bad consequences for them. They're less likely to head committees, get funds for their campaigns, and the bills they want are less likely to pass. So they trust that their leadership knows what they're doing motivated by lack of competence to read the bills properly and by the threat of consequences if they don't vote "the right way". Going with the leadership recommendations is the easy, safe way to go. So that means 10 people usually get whatever they want from Congress, since they only have to convince half of Congress.
Why the first bailout bill failed:
For the first bailout bill, the congressional leadership didn't have their wishes granted. The House members got a lot of angry responses from voters threatening them not to approve this bill. All of the House members are up for reelection this year. So they again took the easy way out and refused to vote for it. If it wasn't just before an election, they knew most voters would forget about the bill by election time and followed the leadership like the sheep they are.
Senators to the rescue?
So the Senators then took action. Only 1/3 of Senators are up for election this year. So 2/3rds felt free to vote for the bill. However it had to pass the House eventually. So they only needed a handful of House members who said no to it to change their minds. So they added $150 billion of candy to the bill that would appeal to those few votes they needed. It was the path of least resistance, so of course it worked.
That's real American Democracy in action!
Here's another scary thought for your consideration:
When the House and Senate pass a bill, they both make changes to it. So when they've finished voting on it, they're not exactly the same bill. However they have to be the same bill for the President to sign it. So rather than pass the bill back and forth for a very long time until they are the same bill, they convene an inter-house committee. Members of the House and Senate get together and consolidate the bills to make them the same. Sometimes the result is completely different than either of the two houses actually voted on. So a bill that was totally against what Congress voted on may become law in this way with a handful of people getting to decide in secret.
Lessons to be learned:
So voters who didn't know all this, try to keep this in mind the next time you protest. I fully support your right to protest, but realize what could happen. Protesting in and of itself doesn't work unless you do it at the right times and at the right people. In this case it made it worse.
Try not to have nightmares, gentle reader. ;)