US Representative Justin Amash tweeted:

For half a year, congressional leaders refused to put any legislation on the floor to be considered AND scrutinized AND amended. Now, they release a 5,593-page bill with no opportunity to read it, let alone amend it. No responsible legislator should vote for such a thing.


The bill in question is inferred to be the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.

Focusing on the claim about the bill...it is true that congressional leaders released a 5,000+ page bill without opportunity to read or amend?

  • 2
    Same point from AOC seems to confirm.
    – Jontia
    Dec 22, 2020 at 7:09
  • 8
    My impression is that this is true for all (or most) recent Appropriations Acts. I remember hearing this same complaint several times previously.
    – Bobson
    Dec 22, 2020 at 7:54
  • 10
    It's a frequent complaint; though last time it was just 479 pages.
    – Panda
    Dec 22, 2020 at 8:04
  • 5
    In 2018 it was "only" some 2,200 pages, but there was no Covid stimulus then. Also debating time was pretty short. "Approximately 17 hours after the 2,232-page bill was released, the House of Representatives passed the bill 256–167 on March 22. [...] The Senate passed the bill 65–32 after midnight on March 23." So, I'd say this is/was fairly common practice in recent years. Dec 22, 2020 at 9:25
  • 3
    There is now a Wikipedia page for the bill, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.
    – Rick Smith
    Dec 22, 2020 at 13:51

1 Answer 1


Yes, and this sort of thing is unfortunately rather common in the US Congress. It results from a divergence between theory and practice:

In theory:

  • Bills are (mostly) written by legislators.
  • Debate periods are used to try to convince other legislators to vote for something.
  • If there's a problem with a bill, it's fixed by amendment on the floor of the chamber.
  • The actual decision making process largely plays out on the floor of the chamber.
  • Legislators independently decide which bills to vote for or against.
  • Each bill covers one subject.
  • Votes may succeed or fail.

In practice:

  • Bills are (mostly) written by aides and/or lobbyists.
  • Debate periods are used to convince the public that the other side is wrong. The rest of the chamber is usually empty, unless a vote just happened or is about to happen.
  • Problems with bills are fixed by re-drafting or in committee, long before it reaches the floor. Amendments are either last-minute fixes that got missed in committee, substitutions (where a whole bill is replaced with an entirely different bill, to bypass some red tape which would otherwise apply to a brand-new bill), or political grandstanding.
  • The legislative chamber is a set piece. The actual decisions are made behind closed doors by legislators and lobbyists negotiating with one another.
  • Whips tell legislators what to vote for, and they usually listen.
  • Each bill covers as many subjects as are necessary for it to pass. Extra terms will be added or subtracted as required to convince individual members of Congress to vote for it.
  • Votes rarely fail because the majority leader of the chamber does not allow the bill to get to the floor if it won't pass.

As a result of these practicalities, all of the necessary decisions have already been made by the time the bill is released, and there is no practical need for legislators to actually read or (try to) amend it. It already has a majority and will pass; the vote is a formality. This is bad, because it makes the process much less transparent to the American people. Unfortunately, it's how Congress operates, particularly with regards to "must pass" legislation such as the budget.

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