FIRST IMPRESSIONS

One Redeeming Quality About the 112th Congress: Refocusing on Descriptive Rather than Evocative Short Titles - Part Two

Brian Christopher Jones

II. What Changed?

B. Laws on Name Changing Decreased

Laws on name changing[16] dropped markedly in terms of the overall percentage of total bills passed.[17] While the percentage had climbed into the twenties and low thirties during the previous four Congresses, it decreased into the mid-teens (14.1 percent) with the 112th Congress. This essentially means that although lawmakers were not as prolific in terms of enacting legislation, they were more focused on substantive measures rather than on naming (or renaming) post offices, parks, and federal buildings. This is not a finding that is likely to change anybody's opinion of the 112th Congress, but it is significant nonetheless, and hopefully this practice will continue in future sessions.

Table 3. Laws on Name Changing (93rd-112th Congresses)

Congress

Total Bills

Naming Bills

Percent of Total

93

649

17

2.6%

94

588

20

3.4%

95

633

32

5.1%

96

613

37

6.0%

97

473

22

4.7%

98

623

33

5.3%

99

663

19

2.9%

100

713

40

5.6%

101

650

27

4.2%

102

590

36

6.1%

103

465

45

9.7%

104

333

34

10.2%

105

394

27

6.9%

106

580

88

15.2%

107

377

66

17.5%

108

498

106

21.3%

109

482

118

24.5%

110

460

146

31.7%

111

383

85

22.2%

112

283

54

14.1%

 

C. Acronym Prevalence in Short Titles Increased

Even though the 112th Congress produced the least amount of short titles since the 97th Congress, it still created the highest number and percentage of acronym titles in the past twenty Congresses.[18] In fact, the percentage of short titles employing acronyms jumped to over 10 percent[19] for the first time ever, producing such intriguing titles as USA (Uninterrupted Scholars Act),[20] the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act,[21] the HEARTH (Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership) Act of 2012,[22] and the SAFE DOSES (Strengthening and Focusing Enforcement to Deter Organized Stealing and Enhance Safety) Act.[23]

Table 4. Acronym Short Titles Used and Percent of Total (93rd-112th Congress)

Congress

Short Titles

Acronyms

Percent of Total

93

166

1

0.60%

94

155

0

0.00%

95

211

3

1.42%

96

201

0

0.00%

97

132

0

0.00%

98

178

0

0.00%

99

170

3

1.76%

100

237

2

0.84%

101

250

2

0.80%

102

257

5

1.95%

103

206

1

0.49%

104

160

2

1.25%

105

213

3

1.41%

106

302

7

2.32%

107

183

6

3.28%

108

251

9

3.59%

109

253

11

4.35%

110

205

16

7.80%

111

197

17

8.63%

112

157

19

12.10%

 

III. What Stayed the Same?

A. Short-to-Long Title Ratio-Naming Laws Eliminated

The short-to-long-title ratio with naming laws eliminated shows a clear picture of where the relationship between the use of short titles and long titles stands.[24] The 112th Congress produced the second highest ratio of short-to-long titles of the past twenty Congresses, measuring 2.62 short titles for every one long title. However, although Congress used short titles slightly more frequently, short titles were not as evocative as in previous years.

Table 5. Short-to-Long Title Ratio-Naming Laws Eliminated

Congress

Short Titles

Long Titles

Short-to-Long Ratio

93

166

383

.43/1

94

155

352

.44/1

95

211

321

.66/1

96

201

290

.69/1

97

132

202

.65/1

98

178

213

.84/1

99

170

174

.98/1

100

237

190

1.25/1

101

250

142

1.76/1

102

257

122

2.11/1

103

206

110

1.87/1

104

160

113

1.42/1

105

213

121

1.76/1

106

302

144

2.10/1

107

183

95

1.93/1

108

251

113

2.22/1

109

253

93

2.72/1

110

205

92

2.23/1

111

197

82

2.40/1

112

157

60

2.62/1

 

B. Short Title Length

In the 112th Congress, short-title length stayed about the same as in previous years. Since the 100th Congress, when the average length reached over seven words per title, the average has not fallen below this mark. Yet, since it peaked at the mid-to-upper seven-word range, short-title length appears to be holding steady. The only threat of short titles exceeding seven words occurred during the 109th Congress, and since then, it has fallen back to the pre-109th range.

Table 6. Short Title Length (93rd-112th Congresses)

Congress

Short Titles

Words

Word Average

93

166

912

5.49

94

155

820

5.29

95

211

1101

5.22

96

201

1365

6.79

97

132

871

6.60

98

178

1174

6.60

99

170

1183

6.96

100

237

1724

7.27

101

250

1876

7.50

102

257

1979

7.70

103

206

1556

7.55

104

160

1149

7.18

105

213

1596

7.49

106

302

2207

7.31

107

183

1423

7.78

108

251

1812

7.22

109

253

2011

7.95

110

205

1544

7.53

111

197

1456

7.39

112

157

1164

7.41

 

C. Personalized Short Titles

Although the 112th Congress passed less legislation than previous Congresses, personalized titles during the lawmaking session comprised a similar percentage of total short titles as during preceding Congresses.[25] Similar to acronym short titling, this appears to be a congressional-short-titling trend that is not abating; for the time being, however, it seems to have leveled off.

Table 7. Personalized Titles and Percent of Total Short Titles

Congress

Short Titles

Personalized Titles

Percent of Total

93

166

1

0.60%

94

155

0

0.00%

95

211

2

0.95%

96

201

0

0.00%

97

132

3

2.27%

98

178

5

2.81%

99

170

2

1.18%

100

237

8

3.38%

101

250

8

3.20%

102

257

8

3.11%

103

206

7

3.40%

104

160

4

2.50%

105

213

14

6.57%

106

302

20

6.62%

107

183

13

7.10%

108

251

13

5.18%

109

253

18

7.11%

110

205

22

10.73%

111

197

12

6.09%

112

157

12

7.64%

 

Conclusion

The short-title statistics from the 112th Congress, taken in conjunction with those from other recent Congresses, show signs of an evocative-title stagnation and a technical-title increase. Evocative wording peaked in the 110th Congress but has noticeably dropped in the last two sessions.[26] Additionally, while technical language bottomed out in the 106th Congress, Congress has gradually been reintroducing such language in short titles ever since.[27] This could mean that lawmakers are finally wising to the fact that, through short titles, their laws are promising much that rarely, if ever, materializes. The electorate may indeed be taking note of such discrepancies.[28] Or, it could simply be that fewer bills were passed in the 112th compared to other Congresses, and those laws with descriptive and less-controversial titles were more easily passed. Either way, the short-title phenomenon in the United States needs to remain under close examination.

There is no hiding the fact that many despised the 112th Congress, and it seems that public perception of the 113th is already following suit.[29] Countless commentators perpetuated the view that the 112th Congress had no redeeming qualities. This Essay, however, challenges that notion. The polarizing rhetoric in Congress has become overly burdensome, not only for the institution itself in terms of lawmaking and other official business but also for the American people in terms of the lack of approval and trust that they have for their elected representatives. Thus, the fact that short titles in the 112th Congress employed more technical than evocative words is significant. Providing public laws with rational, technical titles is a small step toward taming outlandish rhetoric and may perhaps be a small step toward regaining the trust and approval of the citizenry.


          [16].     Every session, Congress passes numerous bills relating to the names of post offices, federal buildings, lakes, and parks, among other things. These measures are usually passed in clustered votes or wrap-up sessions that take very little time and involve virtually no debate. Additionally, such bills always use long titles. Separating them from the other, more substantive legislation allows me to analyze the use of short and long titles more accurately.

          [17].     See infra Table 3.

          [18].     See infra Table 4.

          [19].     These figures include every short title that employed an acronym in some form. Thus, titles were included that were predominantly acronyms, such as the STOCK Act, Pub. L. No. 112-105, 126 Stat. 291, as well as those titles that simply included acronyms, such as the FISA Sunsets Extension Act, Pub. L. No. 112-3, 125 Stat. 5.

          [20].     Uninterrupted Scholars Act ("USA"), Pub. L. No. 112-278, 124 Stat. 2480 (2013).

          [21].     Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge ("STOCK") Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-105, 126 Stat. 291.

          [22].     Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Home Ownership ("HEARTH") Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-151, 126 Stat. 1150.

          [23].     Strengthening and Focusing Enforcement to Deter Organized Stealing and Enhance Safety ("SAFE DOSES") Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-186, 126 Stat. 1427.

          [24].     For more information on naming laws, see supra note 16.

        [25].     See infra Table 7.

        [26].     See supra Figure 1 and Figure 2.

        [27].     See supra Figure 1 and Figure 2.

        [28].     See, e.g., Dina ElBoghdady, The JOBS Act Falls Short, Wash. Post, Mar. 29, 2013, at A09, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/jobs-act-falls-short-of-grand-promises/2013/03/28/5a660a14-8675-11e2-98a3-b3db6b9ac586_story.html; Molly K. Hooper, First Key Fight in Immigration Battle Is What to Name Bill, The Hill (Apr. 4, 2013, 07:23 PM), http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/291973-first-key-fight-in-immigration-battle-is-what-to-name-bill; Geoff Pender, Name That Law-New Site Focuses on Misleading Names for Bills/Acts, Mississippi Politics (Apr. 11, 2013), http://blogs.clarionledger.com/politics/2013/04/11/name-that-law-new-site-focuses-on-misleading-names-for-billsacts/.

        [29].     At the beginning of the 113th Congress, a New York Times poll showed that 82 percent of people disapproved of the new Congress while only 12 percent approved. Jackie Calmes & Megan Thee-Brenan, Poll Finds Most Back Obama, with a Split on Party Lines, N.Y. Times, Jan. 19, 2013, at A10, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/us/politics/entering-2nd-term-obama-has-51-percent-approval-rating.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). 

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