For Bills in Congress, How Long is Long?November 24, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
As soon as Senate Democrats released their health care reform bill, Republicans began calling it out on its length. It’s “longer than Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch [R, UT] last week at a press conference set up by Senate Republicans to slam the bill.
The size of the bills has become a common talking point for opponents of health care reform. Congressional Republicans have repeatedly referenced the number of pages in the Democrats’ health care bills to try to link them to big government and excessive spending. They’ve even staged antics, like the one pictured at right of Rep. Pete Hoekstra [R, MI-2] and the House bill spread along the Capitol steps.
The AP reported recently that, counter to Senator Hatch’s claims, the Senate health care bill is not actually longer than War and Peace. Tolstoy’s novel is about twice as long as the bill. But on his broader point that the bill is extremely long, Hatch is right.
OpenCongress Research Assistant Andrew Rabinowitz downloaded bulk data and analyzed legislation from the last five sessions of Congress to determine “how long is long?” for congressional legislation and how the current health care bills compare to other long bills. Because differences in styling and formatting make page numbers an unreliable metric, he used word counts to compare the bills.
Andrew found that the Democrats’ health care bills in the Senate and the House are, comparatively, very long. In fact, at 314,900 words, the House version is the longest bill to move through Congress since at least 1999. It is more than one hundred times longer than the average bill in Congress over the last five sessions (3,105 words is the average length). For perspective, a good typist could write up the House health care bill in a little less than 65 hours at 80 WPM. If you were willing to sacrifice some comprehension you could probably skim the bill in about 8½ hours at 600 WPM.
But long bills are written by both Democrats and Republicans. The second longest bill to appear in Congress over the past ten years was authored by Republican Rep. Don Young [R, AK-1]. It’s a mere 68 words shorter than the House health care bill. Of the 10 longest bills in the past ten years, five were written by Democrats and five were written by Republicans.
Below is a list of the ten longest bills in Congress, by word count, over the last ten years:
|314,900||Affordable Health Care for American Act||Rep. John Dingell [D, MI-15]||Approved by House|
|314,832||Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, 2005||Rep. Don Young [R, AK-1]||Bill is Law|
|314,573||Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act||Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV]||Submitted in Senate|
|296,111||Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005||Rep. James Kolbe [R, AZ-5]||Bill is Law|
|276,849||Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008||Rep. Nita Lowey [D, NY-18]||Bill is Law|
|274,559||No Child Left Behind Act of 2001||Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8]||Bill is Law|
|258,205||National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008||Rep. Ike Skelton [D, MO-4]||Bill is Law|
|250,286||Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008||Rep. Collin Peterson [D, MN-7]||Bill is Law|
|246,984||Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003||Rep. Bill Young [R, FL-10]||Bill is Law|
|226,492||Energy Policy Act, 2005||Rep. Joe Barton [R, TX-6]||Bill is Law|