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Monday, May 3, 2010

Long Laws

Why are congressional bills so lengthy? John Steele Gordon suggests one cynical explanation: to hide their actual content by rendering them unreadable. He adds:

But there are two other reasons. One is that a vast bill makes it easier to sneak in clauses that go unnoticed until they are law. If the best place to hide a book is in a library, then the best way to hide a favor for a contributor or a quiet little power grab is in a bill 2,000 pages long. The Washington Post recently reported that the financial reform bill would significantly increase the power of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the Internet, something that has nothing to do with financial reform.

The second reason is Washington’s increasing fascination with global reform rather than piecemeal reform. Only touchdowns, it seems, are now allowed in the game of political football; moving the ball down the field just won’t do. The health-care debate would have been a lot shorter and a lot less politically divisive had both sides simply agreed to enact those reforms that a substantial majority of each house agreed with — such as of insurance abuses — and then saw what else was needed. Regulating derivatives would be a piece of cake if it were not tied to “financial reform” in general.