The ‘Read the Bill’ Movement

by Bruce Webb

Republican obstructionists to Obama’s agenda have developed a new tactic. Seemingly forgetful of how Republican majorties jammed through huge bills without letting Dems actually read them, they now insist that every Dem has to read every bit of every bill and more specifically the Health Care Bill. Well in reality that is not that much of a challenge. Behold a typical page of legislation:

If you click on the image to expand it you will see that is is is quite large print, is double spaced, and much indented. Moreover large parts of it are clear boiler plate, necessary to get the exact language in the subsequent U.S. Code correct, but mostly not necessary to get the sense correct. I don’t mean that you don’t need to read bill language carefully, but it is not like reading a 1000 page bill is the equivalent of reading War and Peace.

This sample is from the Senate HELP bill which is 175 pages long. Why is it so much shorter than the House version? Because it only covers the policy components of establishing the benefits package and administering the Exchange, the bulk of the bill is taken up with various tax provisions, important yes but not so much so that you cannot evaluate the policy options without them. Lets look at the text of HR3200 as introduced.
On page 2 we see that the bill is divided into Division A – Affordable Health Care Choices and Division B – Medicare and Medicaid Improments. Division A takes up the first 215 pages while Division B takes up the remaining 803.

I am not saying that Division B is not important or that it doesn’t have some controversial pieces, but mostly it is tinkering with programs that already exist, the real policy innovations are in Division A. And if we look at that we see that it is divided into four Titles. Title 1 – Protections and Standards for Qualified Benefit Plans, Title 2 – Health Insurance Exchange and Related Provisions, Title 3 – Shared Responsibility, and Title 4 -Amendments to the Internal Revenue Code. Of the 215 pages Title 1 takes up pg. 5-71, Title 2 pg. 72-143, Title 3 pg. 143-167. Even at that much of the material is administrative or spelling out specific language changes to current existing code.

The Republicans are going to try to make hay out of this ‘Have you read the bill’ message and to laugh at Obama’s offer to take people through the bill “line by line” but there is nothing that laughable about it. Because most of the meat is concentrated in just a small number of sections in Division A, a couple of hours of briefing or browsing is probably enough to get the average Congressman up to speed on this legislation. In fact the biggest frustration is that while the pages are numbered there are no page keys to translated Section numbers to pages, but except for that this is not that difficult a read.

When people make the claim that no one can really understand a 1018 page bill realize that mostly you don’t need to deeply engage with more than maybe seventy or eighty double spaced, highly indented pages to get a pretty solid grasp of what the bill proposes.