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Bill Length Hypocrisy

February 10, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Ezra Klein writes:

In my conversation with Lamar Alexander yesterday, he kept coming back to the Senate health-care bill’s length as a reason that he couldn’t support it. “You can’t be sure what’s in the Senate bill,” he said, “because it’s 2,100 pages long.” That seems a bit strange: 10 health-care staffers could read 210 pages each and tell you what’s in the bill pretty exactly. That’s what they’re paid to do, presumably. But let’s focus in on the number for a second.

Ezra’s point is that bill length is not a major factor in the quality of a bill. I agree, and a quick look through roll call data from the recent past makes it look like Sen. Alexander generally agrees as well — at least when the bill in question isn’t President Obama’s signature policy priority.

In November, I published original OpenCongress research on bill length using word count as a measure to find out for bills in Congress, how long is long. The research showed that the House health care bill was, at the time, the longest bill to move through Congress in the past decade.

The Senate bill has since taken over that honor. It is a couple hundred pages longer than the House bill, or about 10%. Unfortunately, we don’t have an official word count on it at the moment. Regardless, the “the bill is too long” argument is not specific to the final Senate version. Republicans have been using it to attack the health care proposal ever since the initial House health care bill was introduced in July 2009.

The second longest non-health care reform bill to move through Congress in the past ten years is the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act. It is shorter than the House health care bill by just 68 words. Senator Alexander voted “yea” on that bill, as did most Democrats and Republicans in both chambers.

What about the third-longest non-health care reform bill in Congress over the past decade? It was called the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005, it was 18,789 words shorter than the health care bill, and Senator Alexander voted “yea” on that too.

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