Clive Crook proposes: “Republicans have a point when they complain about the inordinate length of the bill–1,400 pages or thereabouts…”
Stan Collender disposes:
Would a shorter bill have made it better? At less than 3 pages and at a cost of $700 billion, was the original version of the TARP that Hank Paulson sent to Congress a gem? Should the legalese needed to make the changes in the stimulus bill been dropped or shortened so that many provisions would have been subject to court challenges and the money never spent?
What Clive seems to be saying is that, at 1400 pages, the bill could not possibly have been reviewed in detail by many members of Congress before they voted for it given the rush to get it done. What he doesn’t say is that most representatives and senators generally only review the parts of any bill that are important to them for some reason. They may look at the parts that pertain to their committee assignment or which are relevant to their district or state. More likely, they’ve had their personal or committee staff look at the bill and tell them whether there’s anything they need to be concerned about.
But citing the number of pages as a reason to think legislation is bad is ridculous.
The fact of the matter is that this is one of these areas where common sense fails us. Unless you just want to create a huge slush fund, bills that authorize the expenditure of money for diverse purposes need to be very long. And this means that members of congress won’t read the bill. Indeed, one should recall that trying to read the bill would likely not tell you very much. Legislative language is hard to read and typically functions by amending other bits of legislative language that are already on the books and would need to be looked up separately. A responsible legislator is going to rely on summaries and is going to focus his or her attention on the big picture (“do I favor a large stimulus bill? how do I feel about the balance of tax measures and spending measures?”) along with a handful of provisions that relate to a special area of interest. That’s just the way the system works.