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The Republican tax plan was just passed, and there's a bit of uproar about the way it was released. Several of the Democratic congressmen have complained they were not able to read it, both because the time period they were given was too small and because they claimed some of the handwritten text was illegible.

Without taking a political side on this particular instance, I feel that this implies a party could deliberately push a bill knowing full well the other party would not have an opportunity to know what they were voting on. It seems one could poorly hand-write a few hundred pages as the final draft, and release it with far too little time for it to be read.

Is there any legislation preventing this from happening? Are there actions a congressman could take to delay a vote until a "fair" time period had passed?

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  1. If they passed a restriction by legislation, they could change it by legislation.

  2. Traditionally Congress has had the final say on almost all questions on the operation of Congress. Absent a constitutional limitation that is clearly in opposition, they don't interfere.

  3. What happens in an emergency? Presumably there would need to be an escape clause for emergencies. And with an escape clause, someone would use it.

A member of Congress could refuse to vote for legislation until they have had time to read it. If enough do that, the legislation doesn't pass. Of course, if you never showed any intent to vote for the legislation but only wanted to delay for the purpose of delay, that method won't work for you. Or if you know that your constituents or donors both favor and oppose the legislation, then you might use the "no time to read it" excuse to explain a vote against. Thus avoiding angering either side.

The traditional reason for creating rules about such things is not to allow legislators time to read bills. The traditional reason has been to allow constituents time to read and comment on bills. Because legislators shouldn't need laws to protect them from unreadable bills. They can insist on legibility as a requirement for voting on a bill. Or they can delegate that task to people that they trust, like the committee staffers who do much of the work of writing legislation in the United States.

  • While this outlines why this isn't a very useful thing to have it doesn't address what time management is available to the minority in the house. I know they are limited, but I'm not sure that they are eliminated. – user9389 Dec 4 '17 at 22:07
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No, there is no minimum.

However, in the Senate, any single Senator can demand that a bill be read out loud before a vote. This can be and has been used to delay or derail legislation; Tom Coburn did exactly that during the Obamacare debate; see also here for a story about a healthcare plan Bernie Sanders proposed, then withdrew after Coburn insisted that it be read before any vote.

Of course, in the case of a short bill, such tactics would be much less effective.

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