By Tom Giffey Leader-Telegram staff | 0 comments
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act has led to a new round of condemnation for the law, which critics usually call “Obamacare.” In addition to challenging the law’s constitutionality (a question which, presumably, has been answered by the high court), they criticize its cost, its scope, and in many cases its very length.
More than two years after it was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, critics still frequently note that Obamacare is 2,400 (sometimes it’s stated as 2,700) pages long — the implication being that it’s overly complex and that lawmakers could not possibly have read it (and therefore understood it) before they voted on it. The 2,400 figure is included often in letters to the editor, blogs, newspaper articles and even on the website of Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama’s Republican challenger.
Two-thousand, four-hundred pages. Wow! That’s a lot of paper! It’s a good thing that, thanks to the Internet, I don’t have to track down or print out a hard copy of the bill to double-check the claims made about it. All I had to do was Google “Affordable Care Act” to learn that the document is official known as Public Law 111-148. A visit to the U.S. Government Printing Office website (gpo.gov) yields a page with PDF and text versions of the law. A quick click on the PDF link opens up all 2,400 pages of the law on my computer.
Oops! Make that all 906 pages of the law. You read that correctly: The law, as enacted, is 906 pages long. (Click here to check it out.) That’s still really, really long, but it brings the law down from insanely large to sometime almost manageable. It’s hard to imagine anyone reading a 2,400-page document, but 906 pages puts the law in the realm of some of Stephen King’s longer novels. (And, for Republicans, “Obamacare” is just as frightening.)
To double-check the 906-page figure, I visited the Obama administration’s website for the law,HealthCare.gov. Clicking on the “Full Text of the Affordable Care Act” link yields a 974-page PDF. The 68-page discrepancy puzzled me, until I read the full title at the top of the document, which noted that it included “Health-Related Portions Of The Health Care And Education Reconciliation Act Of 2010.” As you may recall, the Democrats’ loss of a supermajority in the Senate in early 2010 led to parliamentary gymnastics to pass an amended version of the bill in a way that avoided a Republican filibuster; this was done through the so-called “reconciliation” process, which limits debate on spending bills. As far as I can tell, including this reconciliation act makes the document a bit longer.
So where did the 2,400-page number come from? The Affordable Care Act, as you’ll recall, was the subject of much debate and alternation in Congress during Obama’s first year in office. One early version of the bill (that’s the bill, not the law) — known as House Resolution 3590, as amended by the Senate — ran to 2,076 pages. A subsequent version of this bill, passed by the U.S. Senate Dec. 24, 2009, was2,409 pages long. Voila! That’s where the elusive, often-cited figure comes from. So, while it’s not accurate to call the “Obamacare” law 2,400 pages, it is correct to call one version of the bill 2,400 pages. Confusing, I know.
So why the roughly 1,500-page difference between the bill and the final law? Some of it, I suspect, was because of amendments that deleted parts of the original bill. A lot, however, lies in the kind of tricks known to anyone who has ever tried to make a college essay look longer (or shorter): altering margins, font sizes, etc. I arbitrarily picked a page of the bill’s text and found it contained 202 words; an arbitrary page of the law’s text included 396 words.
I was curious to know how the length of the Affordable Care Act compared with other major pieces of legislation. Take, for example, the Wisconsin state budget (officially known as Act 32) signed into law last July by Gov. Scott Walker. The PDF of the budget, as approved, is 532 pages long. I cut and pasted the text into my word processor, and learned the budget ran to 409,629 words (give or take — the figure includes some page headers and other extraneous verbiage). How long is the Affordable Care Act? By my count, it’s 418,779 words (again, that’s approximate).
In other words (pardon the pun), a law refashioning one of the major sectors of the U.S. economy is only slightly longer than a law setting the two-year budget for one of the 50 states.
So, ultimately, how long is 906 pages? Yes, it’s really, really long. But is it unreasonably long, considering the issue involved? That’s up to readers — and voters — to decide for themselves.
Giffey is the Leader-Telegram’s editorial page editor.
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