Bill Bloat, or, Statutory Satiation

Posted on June 25, 2014 by


Congress hasn’t passed all that much legislation in some time, or at least not anything much of significance.  That may be a good thing.  But in this blog I want to take a look at a very disturbing trend in the legislation that has passed.  Below I have listed some of the most important bills passed in the last ten years, along with the number of pages in the bill.  Then I will list a few other important laws from the more distant past, say from 1960 through 2000, including the original Environmental Protection Act and the Civil Rights Act. 

What the reader will see is not just a vast expansion of the number of pages, but a representation of the Congresses refusal to actually exercise authority, but rather to delegate it to massive bureaucracies, with vast discretion and unaccountable rulemakers.

In addition, I will list these acts again, along with the number of pages of regulations attending them, issued by the agencies established by those laws.  For the older bills, I will only list number of pages published in the first few years of the law’s existence. It is true that long-existing laws (almost all now—nothing seems to go away) are continually having new rules and regulations added, but this is precisely because of this new trend of Congress to give away its constitutional function of law-making.

So let’s go to work:

New Laws and Number of Pages (2000-2014)

Affordable Care Act of 2010                                                                                                    2,500 pages

Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users,  1,227 pages                                                                                

Dodd-Frank (Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act)                                     2,300 pages

Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010    955 pages

No Child Left Behind  Act of 2001                                                                                              668 pages    

This is a small sample of legislation, but it addresses large elements of the economy, education, and health care, making these acts crucially important.  Below is a sample of the regulations issued by various agencies in connection with these acts.

Rules and Regulations and Number of Pages (CFR, approximate)

Affordable Care Act                                                                                                    15,000 pages

Dodd-Frank Act                                                                                                           14,000 pages

No Child Left Behind Act                                                                                             Unavailable (rules scattered)

Now I know I ought to provide a few more samples, but time does not permit. Suffice it to say that not only have statutes grown longer, but the regulations implementing them have grown even more.  So how do these examples compare with previous major laws? Let’s look at a couple of important statutes, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Environmental Protection Act (actually the National Environmental Policy Act) of 1969.  The EPA runs to all of eight (8) pages!  That is the original act of course; it has been amended numerous times.  The CRA runs to a whopping total of 27 pages, for a law that had sweeping implications.  Well, that is how far we have come. 

The reader may ask why I am making an issue of the differences over time.  After all, don’t we live in a more complex world than the 1960s?  Laws must of necessity be longer, you may say.  But my point is this:  Look at the content of these statutes and you will see some interesting and significant elements.  The newer acts contain (usually)  hundreds of pages of references to other statutes—indicating just how pervasive Federal intervention has already become—and also hundreds of pages of delegations to either one or a few agencies, giving them nearly absolute discretion as to how to implement and interpret laws.  Moreover, where one does find substance, it is normally extremely vague, leaving again the discretion regarding interpretation to the Federal agencies.  These agencies in turn have expended many trees and man-hours to produce some of the most complex and in some cases incomprehensible rules one might imagine.  I might add the question:  How much more important are any issues other than civil rights and protection of the environment?  Yet, Congress was able to pass short, succinct statutes.  Yes, over the years the EPA and the Justice Department have issued lots of regulations, but that is part of the new trend itself.  In the early days of these statutes, the regulations were relatively minimal—and a lot less intrusive.

What have gotten for all this activity?  Certainly more coercion from the state, much more intrusive activities, unprevented (even aided) by Congress.  Inefficiency has increased along with this expansion, as has the Federal budget.  Costs to citizens and businesses have mushroomed, and for questionable benefits. 

How far will this “bill bloat” go?  I can’t say.  But when Congress convenes and nearly every member of both houses has his or her own pet issue, and when no one wants to be unambiguous but rather obscure, so as to allow an unaccountable stable of bureaucratic lawyers decide the fate of citizens, then I don’t see the trend ending any time soon.  Of course we could implement term limits by Constitutional amendment.  Or better yet, we could amend the Constitution to limit the sessions of Congress to one month per year.  I might really like that, but don’t hold your breath on that one.  Maybe we could limit salaries of legislators to, say, $20,000 per year.  I bet they would spend a lot less time in Washington then.  Seriously though, the very best way to stop this stupidity is to find a way to limit the power of the Federal government itself consistent with the Constitution.  That way less mischief can be done.  But it won’t be easy.  The courts are not showing a great deal of sympathy, though sometimes they do come through.  Perhaps Constitutional amendments that are explicit in their language of limitation might be appropriate, but amendments are difficult to get through (rightly so in general).  There seems to be no “magic bullet.” 

But let’s not give up.  And Christians must pray, continually.  And when called, Christians themselves should engage in the political process to hopefully bring a voice of reason.