Speed Reads

Too big to fail (and read)

The $2.3 trillion bill Congress just passed is longer than all 7 Harry Potter books combined

Members of Congress faced a "familiar year-end conundrum" on Monday, The Associated Press reports: "A bill too big to fail, and also too big to read." First the House, then the Senate passed a $900 billion coronavirus pandemic relief bill and $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package with large majorities Monday night, just hours after the legislation was released. "Delivering virus aid to the country required a leap of faith for lawmakers as they cast their votes, practically sight unseen," for a monster 5,593-page bill that the Senate Historical Office says is the longest successful piece of legislation they could find on record, AP notes.

"I think if we provide everyone a paper copy we would have to destroy an entire forest," quipped House Rules Committee Chair James McGovern (D-Mass.). That may be a slight exaggeration, but Politico's Kyle Cheney found a way to drive home just how long the legislation is, in terms many Americans will understand.

What's in the colossal bill? A lot. Throwing everything in a year-end package has become an annual holiday tradition in Congress — "it's why such bills are often called 'Christmas trees,' trimmed with legislative ornaments," AP explains. There's comprehensive clean energy legislation, a massive overhaul of FAA aircraft certification, a large water resources measure, revised copyright rules. two new Smithsonian museums, and an entire section on Tibet, including official new U.S. policy on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

"And then there were the smaller items stowed away in the thousands of pages — important to some lawmakers, but unlikely to win coveted floor time in a freestanding bill," AP reports. "One section repealed a variety of little-known criminal penalties for minor violations, including the transportation of the water hyacinths and the use of the Swiss coat of arms," plus "the unauthorized use of the 4-H Club emblem, the 'Smokey Bear' character, the 'Woodsy Owl' character, or 'The Golden Eagle Insignia.'"