Is 1,400 pages a problem?

By Clive Crook

My friend Stan Collender, who knows more about the budget process than anybody else I can think of, says my wife is wonderful but takes me to task for my remarks on the length of the fiscal stimulus bill. (Paul Krugman, quite unappeased by my accusing Republicans of hypocrisy on the point, congratulates him on a "fine takedown".)

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...

[C]iting the number of pages as a reason to think legislation is bad is ridiculous.  That's on a par with football commentators talking about the number of minutes one team has had the ball compared to the other or the greater number of plays one team has run.

Stan, please, read what I wrote:

[F]ailing to read the law you are voting for is standard working method in Congress. But that doesn't invalidate the criticism, certainly not in the eyes of the public. Not every unread piece of legislation costs taxpayers $800 billion. It isn't too much to ask that the politicians voting for this law, even if they had to make an exception, had read it first.

Well, is that too much to ask? The point is not length as such, obviously, but length in relation to time for consideration. In that very post I said that, on balance, I am for this measure. So I can hardly be accused of saying that any 1,400 page law must be bad. But I cannot think that passing such an enormously expensive and complicated piece of legislation in such a frantic rush is good government--even if it is standard practice.

(Paul reminds us that "War and Peace" is both very long and very good. That made me think of the Woody Allen joke about the fellow who took a speed-reading course and then read the novel. "It's about Russia.")

(Stan also has a wonderful wife, by the way.)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/02/is-1-400-pages-a-problem/9568/