‘I Didn’t Have Time to Write a Short Bill,
So I Wrote a Long One Instead’

With apologies to Blaise Pascal

Much has been made about the length of the legislation Congress developed in 2009. The cap-and-trade bill that passed the House was 1,201 pages. The stimulus bill was 1,073 pages. The healthcare bill that passed the Senate  takes the cake this year at 2,074 pages (the House version was a mere 1,990 pages).

A little historical context is helpful. How long were some of the bills that were among the most consequential in our nation’s history?

Homestead Act (1862) — 9 pages.

National Labor Relations Act (1935) [aka “Wagner Act”] — 25 pages.

Social Security Act (1935) — 82 pages.

Civil Rights Act (1964) — 74 pages.

I especially like that last one—the healthcare bill is 2,000 pages more than the Civil Rights Act. There’s probably a larger point to be made here (the need for “simple rules for a complex world” and all that) but the numbers really do speak for themselves.

Special thanks to AEI’s Henry Olsen, researcher Joy Pavelski, and the Library of Congress.

UPDATE: Mark Perry cobbles together what this looks like in graphical form:


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