Trying to make hay over the number of pages in the proposed health care bills can be shown to be a really absurd way of arguing against the ideas within.

We at Environment Memo work all the time with environmental laws and regulations, which can be lengthy and require study, but much of the difficulty lies in the scientific and technical concepts beneath the surface, not the length, really.  Also, there’s a lot of filler material, including tables and charts; and redundancy, lest readers not understand what is being said.  The bottom line is that the health care legislation under debate is not really scientific in nature, and, regardless, length is not an important factor, especially when this legislation is compared to the tax code, as we get to below.

Raising hoopla about length is an example,  unfortunately, of some of the very poor thinking, and/or lack of critical thinking, by both politicians and reporters alike.  Jumping on this bandwagon does nothing to help the debate, and reflects poorly upon those who try to make length an issue.

As an example,  Politico.com has an article entitled “House health bill clocks in at 1,990 pages,” which fails to put matters in perspective, showing both ignorance and a ludicrous pandering nature on the part of this sometimes very good news outlet.  This article has such gems as

It runs more pages than War and Peace, has nearly five times as many words as the Torah, and its tables of contents alone run far longer than this story.

The House health care bill unveiled Thursday clocks in at 1,990 pages and about 400,000 words. With an estimated 10-year cost of $894 billion, that comes out to about $2.24 million per word.

Republicans aide said a print-out of the bill weighs more than 19 pounds and stands nearly nine inches tall.

North Carolina Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry, 34 years old and a few inches taller than 5 feet, said the bill could act as a ”booster seat.”

The problem with these silly comparisons (look at the length of a typical medical text, for example!), bluster, and accompanying avoidance of issues is that the US tax code was at something like 67,000 pages by last year.  As dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com noted here in 2008,

in 1913….the code contained 400 pages. That number held pretty steady until 1945, when it ballooned to 8,200 pages. … The code hit 14,000 pages by 1954 …  So far this year, we’re up to 67,506 pages of tax law.

Here’s a chart, put out by CCH’s Standard Federal Tax Reporter, showing we are now up to 70,000 pages:

Tax Code Pages

Tax Code Pages Over Time, CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter (click to enlarge)

More pages have been added to the tax code this past year than the total number of pages in the proposed health care bill!  Back in 1945, before the tax code mushroomed beyond the pale, as the complainers about the length of the tax code would (justifiably) have it, it was 8,200 pages long!

Just once, when people trot out a thick volume containing the health care bill under debate, and beat on it with their fist, I’d like to see someone blow a whistle and ask that a printout of the tax code be brought into the room. We’re talking many wheelbarrows-full here. And, while people do complain about its length, the focus is on tax issues, not how many pages are involved.  It’s too bad the same cannot be said about the health care legislation under debate right now.


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