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PolitiFact: Yes, tax code is long and complex

The statement

"The Internal Revenue code has ballooned to a 5,600-page, 4 million-word complicated mess that is seven times as long as the Bible with none of the good news."

Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., in a press release

The ruling

A 2010 report by the Internal Revenue Service's Taxpayer's Advocate Office found that the tax code contained 3.8 million words. That calculation was made by downloading a zip file of the code, unzipping it and running it through Microsoft Word's word-count feature, according to a footnote in the report. A 2012 version of the report puts the number of words in the code at "about 4 million."

We also reached out to CCH, the Riverwoods, Ill., publisher of the two-volume 2013 Winter version of the tax code and was told the best estimate of word length was 4 million.

So Lance's claim about the number of words is generally accurate.

Next, let's look at number of pages. Lance said 5,600, based on the same figure cited by articles in the Washington Post, the Harvard Business Review and other publications, according to Todd Mitchell, Lance's chief of staff.

Mark Luscombe, a principal federal tax analyst for CCH, said the publisher's version of the tax code is 5,036 pages.

"Private publishers do a print version of the Internal Revenue code, but then you're looking at one private publisher's version of the code," he said. "We do it in two volumes and we keep condensing it."

The key point here? Letter size, font and spacing matter when counting pages in the tax code and even in the Bible.

Dennis Olson, the Charles T. Haley professor of Old Testament Theology at the Princeton Theological Seminary, said an approximation of 800,000 words for the Old and New Testaments combined is fair.

"The King James Version would be 823,156, while the more recent New Revised Standard Version would be 774,746 words," Olson said in an email.

Hellen Mardaga, an assistant professor of New Testament at Catholic University in Washington, said there's no standard way to measure the size of the Bible, given its numerous translations and texts, but said she, too, was aware of estimates that put it at 800,000 words.

Mardaga also noted that dividing 4 million — the number of words in the tax code — by 800,000 would mean the tax code is five times longer than the Bible, not Lance's seven.

We looked at versions of the King James and New American Standard versions of the Bible on Amazon.com. The four Bibles we looked at ranged in size from 512 pages to 1,112. Accordingly, Mitchell said he has seen numerous references comparing the size of the tax code with the Bible, ranging from four times as long to 10 times as long. Seven, he said, is in the middle.

So while the tax code isn't seven times as long as the Bible, even given a standard word count for the good book, we get Lance's overall point: The tax code is long and complex. We rate his claim Mostly True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Yes, tax code is long and complex 05/04/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 7:05pm]
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