According to a famous historian from the Roman Empire, Tacitus (56-117 AD), “The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” (1) (2)
Some recent laws passed by the U.S. Congress have been really lengthy. For example the Affordable Care Act was 2,400 pages (381,517 words)(3). Follow-up expansion of regulations having to do with enforcing the ACA ran to 11,588,500 words (4). That’s thirty times longer than the ACA itself. Whew! The No Child Left Behind bill of 2001 had more than 1,000 pages and 274,559 words.
According to one source, complexity aids those who know how to navigate complex and convoluted pages of legislation (5). And that can help special interests as they become experts at how to get around a law. It may also help Congress members to be less accountable for all of the diffuse information in a bill. A Congress member can say that they didn’t read the bill because there wasn’t enough time to read it before a vote was required after months of negotiations. We have heard this excuse many times in the recent past. Or a Congress member can claim that they would never agree to all of the provisions except that they were a necessary part of political compromise.
One thing’s for sure. Simpler and shorter laws could be better for our nation. Shorter laws would reduce special interest influence. And also could reduce confusions regarding enforcement. Confusing laws might lead to selective enforcement or other enforcement problems. Laws should be easy to understand and making them impossible to understand because they are too long and complicated is a bad strategy if we want the nation to be strong politically and economically. Not all of the laws being passed are so very long. But laws having to do with how money will be spent or how people will be taxed seem to have become too long indeed.
Perhaps it’s time for the legislature to look at this problem and limit the length of text allowed in new legislation. And of course there are more than a million laws that already exist and some of them should probably go away to streamline our body of legislation and make it less costly and more enforceable. Do you think that our Congress members would ever reduce the length and the number of laws? Should they?
Sources: (1) Wikipedia, enwikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus, accessed 29 Dec 2015.
(2) Brainyquote, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/t/tacitus169570.html, accessed 29 Dec 2015.
(3) The Economist, 23 Nov 2013, from the print edition, http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21590368-why-congress-writes-such-long-laws-outrageous-bills, accessed 29 Dec 2015.
(4) 11,588,500 Words: Obamacare Regs.30x as Long as Law, Penny Starr, Oct 14, 2013, cnsnews.com/news/article/penny-starr/1158500-words-obamacare-regs-x30-long-law, accessed 29 Dec 2015.
(5) “For Bills in Congress, How Long is Long?, 24 Nov, 2009, http://www.opencongress.org/articles/view/1375-For-Bills-in-Congress-How-Long-is-Long, accessed 29 Dec 2015.
All text on this blog is copyrighted to Mel Scanlan Stahl. If you should refer to my blog posts or blog pages please acknowledge me as the source.