Light reading

LIGHT READING…. Of all the many Republican arguments against health care reform, the incessant whining about the literal, physical size of the legislation is comically foolish. And yet, rather than a grown-up debate about policy, the congressional majority remains obsessed with page-number totals.

We talked a few months ago about why the claims themselves are so misleading. If you’ve ever seen the physical page of a bill in Congress, you know that it doesn’t look like a traditional printed page in, say, a book. They have huge margins, with a large font, and every line is numbered and double-spaced.

But the child-like complaints — if a bill is “long,” it must be “bad” — continue unabated. In recent weeks, congressional Republicans have become especially fond of Tolstoy. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah said the health care reform bill is “larger than the novel ‘War and Peace.'” Rep. Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri said proposals are “exceeding even ‘War and Peace’ in length.” Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas added, “‘War and Peace’ — some people consider it the greatest book ever written, but most people recognize the novel because at 1,284 pages its length is often the butt of jokes. Now imagine trying to read something that long overnight.”

Fox News kept up a Tolstoy fixation for quite a while, too.

The Associated Press, to its credit, looked into this.

The bill passed by the House is 319,145 words. The Senate bill is 318,512 words, shorter than the House version despite consuming more paper. Various versions of Tolstoy’s novel are 560,000 to 670,000 words. Bush’s education act tallied more than 280,000 words.

By now, the full draft of Reid’s bill that had circulated in the corridors and landed so prominently on Republican desks has been published in the Congressional Record in the official and conventional manner.

The type is small and tight. No hernias will be caused by moving this rendering of the bill around. Unfurling it on the Capitol steps would not be much of a spectacle.

It’s 209 pages.

In other words, the health care bill — the one that Republicans say is too burdensome to actually read — is shorter than Sarah Palin’s 413-page book.

Can the GOP move on to new talking points now?