- The Washington Times
Sunday, November 22, 2009

Just before Sen. John Ensign took the Senate floor Friday evening to blast Democrats’ health care bill, a Senate staffer lugged a 2-foot-tall tower of papers to his desk to make sure it showed up in every camera angle C-SPAN might want to catch of the senator’s speech.

The real star of the health care debate this weekend has been the 2,074-page bill — a physical manifestation of the size and scope of what’s at stake as senators consider the overhaul of one-sixth of the nation’s economy.

“It’s a massive increase in government, as shown by this bill,” Mr. Ensign, Nevada Republican, told a reporter off the floor later, spreading his arms wide as if to encompass the stack of papers more than a foot tall.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said the bill weighs more than 20 pounds.

The bill contains the word “tax” 511 times and includes 18 tax hikes, according to Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative lobbying group. It uses the word “require” more than 1,000 times and the word “shall” more than 3,500 times, and talks about studies required by the bill 150 times.

Democrats hope the legislation also contains enough perks and incentives to win the 60 votes needed to get a bill passed and on President Obama’s desk.

It’s the largest of the health care bills to date, nearly 2 1/2 times as long as the 839-page bill a Senate committee approved earlier this year and 84 pages longer than the bill that the House passed earlier this month.

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To emphasize the point, Republicans left a double-stack copy of the House and Senate bills together on the desk of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky throughout the debate.

Republicans have rotated three other copies of the bill among their desks so a giant stack is never more than a desk or two away from any senator who wants to thump it, poke it or heft it for viewers to see.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, is in charge of the floor team and has made sure copies are available on the floor and in the Republican cloakroom so senators are armed for the debate.

The size of the bill has been a powerful symbol for months. During August’s contentious town-hall meetings, members of the public and lawmakers alike carried copies of one version of the House bill, and each side questioned whether the other had made it through the entire text.

The prop seems to have begun to irritate Democrats.

“Nowhere on their desk do we see their bill. They have no answers, no solutions,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico accused Republicans of unfairly padding the prop.

“You only have print on one side, which isn’t even the way we print them up around here. I’ve had mine printed up on both sides, so I use both sides of the paper. So they’ve made an attempt here to make it look a lot higher than it is,” he said.

When the official version is printed, Mr. Udall said, the type will be much smaller and the bill will amount to “an average-size book.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat, picked apart the math of Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. Mr. Gregg had estimated that at a cost of $2.5 trillion over 10 years, the bill totaled nearly $2 billion per page.

“Well, last I checked with my schoolchildren, two divided by two is one, not two divided by two is two,” Mr. Merkley said.

By Saturday morning, Republicans were using different math: $1.2 billion per page, which they said was big enough to make their point.

On Friday, Republicans used the bill as a prop at a press conference. Mrs. Murkowski pointed to the 20 1/2-pound pile and called it a turkey of a bill.

“I don’t know about you, but when we get our Thanksgiving turkey, it’s about a 20-pound turkey, so there you have it,” she said.

Jennifer Haberkorn and Kara Rowland contributed to this report.

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