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Legislation that’s too long is just wrong

By Marcie Geffner · Bankrate.com
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Posted: 12 pm ET

As Congressional leaders continue to hammer out the final details of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010, I have to wonder whether anyone has actually read the current, and apparently soon-to-be-final, bill.

After all, we're all talking about legislation that, in the House version, is something like 1,616 pages in the PDF. That's nearly 600 pages longer than the longest book on my bookshelf, which happens to be The Lord of the Rings at 1,087 pages. Of course, other books are longer than that, but my point is not so much to identify the world's longest book as to suggest that anyone who claims to have read this monstrosity of legislation in its entirety must have spent some very late nights reading under the covers with a flashlight.

Of course, many people read and track legislation for a living, and in one case, some of these folks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have put together and posted online a chart of what was in the bill as of June 16. The chart runs 35 pages and has 11 columns: Title, Chapter, Part, Section, Action, Rule-making, Study Required, Report Required (to Congress), SEC role, Effective Date and Comments. Note that the first four of those columns exist only to track the location of the rule within the bill.

Setting aside the important questions of what's in the legislation, the length alone is a problem. Because who apart from lobbyists, analysts, Congressional aides, attorneys and news reporters, has the time, energy, stamina or knowledge to read and comprehend 1,616 pages of legalese? When no one can read a law, democracy itself is at risk because if we can't read it, how can we decide whether we're for it or against it?

That, of course, is where the TV advertisements and other commercial messages come in. The pros know we haven't read the 1,616 pages, so they prey on our ignorance to tell us what they've decided we should think, regardless of whether that’s in our best interest -- or, more likely, not. Ouch.

I don't know whether I'm for or against the financial reform bill. But I do know that I'm against the general trend toward massive legislation.

What's your opinion?

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