“If I become president, I will repeal ‘Obamacare.’ My bill was 70 pages. His bill is 2,700 pages. In those extra 2,630 pages he’s doing a lot of stuff that is just devastating to the health care system in this country. He’s wrong.”
--Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), May 31, 2011
Mitt Romney has a problem—the sweeping universal health care bill he signed into law five years ago. President Obama has cited “Romneycare” as a model for his own health care law, making it a political albatross for the former Massachusetts governor in the contest to win the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
So Romney has tried his best to emphasize that the law he signed was different and unique to Massachusetts and should not have been considered a template for the rest of the country. Nevertheless, our friends at PolitiFact.com have put together a clever quiz that demonstrates just how difficult it is to tell the difference between the two laws.
This week on NBC’s “Today” show, Romney asserted that the difference was evident in the sheer bulk of the bills — a mere “70 pages” for his law and a behemoth “2,700 pages” for the president’s law. This is an old politician’s trick — lots of pages suggest something nefarious is going on — but we decided to dig deeper and see whether this is even a relevant apples-to-apples comparison.
Obama’s law was actually two bills: a Senate version and a reconciliation bill that made changes to accommodate concerns of the House. The complicated procedure became necessary after the Democrats lost their 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but it means that the bill was bulkier than the usual bill in which lawmakers had settled differences in a House-Senate conference.
The bills also included elements that had nothing to do with universal health care, such as an overhaul of student loans and new long-term care legislation.
Michael Cannon, director of health policy at the Cato Institute, gave us a copy of a consolidated version of the two bills. In other words, this is what the law would have looked like if it had been written in the usual way. This version clocks in at just 907 pages.
Cannon is a critic of both laws and thinks that page length of a bill can be a telling indicator, showing a “potential for mischief.” But he estimated that the section of the national law that directly compares to Romney’s law is only about 200 pages of the 907-page version.
Okay, 200 pages is still more than 70, right? Not necessarily. When Romney signed the bill, the Boston Globe reported that it was 145 pages long. There’s not much difference between 200 and 145 pages. Perhaps Romney is now using double-sided paper?
After we told Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom about the Globe report, he said he went to the Web site of the Massachusetts Legislature and printed out the bill (technically, Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2006). He said he counted 66 pages.
“Our view is that President Obama’s health care law vastly increases the size, reach and power of the federal government, and this is borne out by the sheer volume of legislative language contained within its thousands of pages,” Fehrnstrom said.
We think the difference in the page count between the Globe article and Fehrnstrom’s printout actually undercuts Romney’s point. The number of pages depends not only on the words in the bill, but also the text size and even the page size.
“Counting pages is a pretty stupid activity,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who advised Romney and also Democrats on the health care laws.
“The general point that is right is that the Affordable Care Act [Obama’s law] is more ambitious than the Massachusetts plan,” Gruber added. “Part was by necessity: In Massachusetts our plan was paid for (half by the feds), whereas for ACA they need to raise the money. Part was by choice: the Massachusetts plan didn’t do anything about cost control, while the ACA is very ambitious on this front.”
The Pinocchio Test
Comparing pages in different bills is silly, especially in this case. An apples-to-apples comparison suggests there is virtually no difference in page count between the relevant parts of the two laws—and that is not even accounting for the fact that “Romneycare”covers just one state and “Obamacare” covers an entire country.