UPDATE (12/10): Before we could do so much as send an email asking for your support, the bill has passed by a vote of 221-202. It is a 1,000+ page piece of legislation that contains more than $1.1 trillion in spending for six of the largest federal agencies in the country, plus Medicare and Medicaid. Unbelievable.
Next up is the Defense Appropriations bill. I hope they get it right.
UPDATE (12/9): A House-Senate Committee has indeed combined six of the seven remaining appropriations bills into one omnibus bill – using the Transportation appropriation (HR 3288) as the vehicle and leaving out Defense (HR 3326) – which appropriates approximately $446.8 billion for FY 2010. We just finished downloading it. It’s very big.
Making sure the bill is online for at least 72 hours before debate seems eminently reasonable for a half trillion dollar piece of legislation, and is a requirement we know Congress is completely capable of fulfilling.
It’s looking extremely likely that Congress will take up debate of six massive appropriations (read: “spending”) bills this week by combining them into one big omnibus bill and trying to pass them all at once before December 18th.
Assuming this scenario does indeed come to pass, it’s imperative that the House and Senate allow members of Congress, the media, and the public the necessary time to understand how our money is to be spent by putting the entire omnibus bill online for at least 72 hours before it’s debated.
Omnibus appropriations bills have a notorious history of bloating at the last minute as members of Congress add in “just one more provision” of spending. Often the added provisions are more than just spending, but larger bills that Congress couldn’t move in the regular legislative process. In 2006, former senior Republican aide Don Wolfensberger described the discovery of questionable provisions of past omnibus bills in Roll Call:
Days after an omnibus bill is signed into law, enterprising reporters, wading through hundreds of pages of statutory language, begin finding hidden goodies that had not been in the bills or reported or passed by either chamber. And therein lie the black eyes, time bombs, back room deals, and sundry other embarrassments that sully the reputation of Congress and infuriate unsuspecting Members and constituents alike.
What’s worse, these massive bills also have a decades-long history of not being available for either Congress or the public to actually read before they are passed. Note the matter of hours and even minutes in one case that Congress has had to review them between 1986 and 2005.
Omnibus Appropriations Bills (FY 1987-2005)*
|Passed||Bill||Pages**||House Read Time||Senate Read Time***|
|Oct. 1986||H.J. Res. 738 – Continuing Appropriations Act, 1987||?||Less than 24 hours||Less than 24 hours|
|Dec. 1987||H.J. Res. 395 – Continuing Appropriations Act, 1988||1,194||[? Hours]||Up to 48 hours|
|Apr. 1996||H.R. 3019 – Omnibus Consolidated Recissions and Appropriations Act of 1996||571||1 hour, 24 min||Less than 6 hours|
|Sept. 1996||H.R. 3610 – Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 1997||1,198||I hour, 54 min||Up to 48 hours|
|Oct. 1998||H.R. 4328 – Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999||1,602||22 hours, 47 min||Less than 36 hours|
|Nov. 1999||H.R. 3194 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2000||1,175||12 hours, 38 min||Up to 18 hours|
|Dec. 2000||H.R. 4577 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2001||1,103||6 min.||Up to 3 hours|
|Oct. 2000||H.R. 4635 – VA-HUD Appropriations Act, 2001||307||18 hours, 9 min.||Up to 21 hours|
|Feb. 2003||H.J. Res. 2 – Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003||1,507||6 hours, 7 min||Up to 16 hours|
|Dec. 2003-Jan. 2004||H.R. 2673 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2004||1,186||13 days||Up to 56 days|
|Nov. 2004||H.R. 4818 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005||1,645||14 hours, 13 min||Up to 15 hours|
The six appropriation measures likely to be included in this year’s measure are Commerce-Justice-Science (HR 2847), Financial Services (HR 3170), Labor-HHS-Education (HR 3293), Military Construction-VA (HR 3082), State-Foreign Operations (HR 3081) and Transportation-HUD (HR 3288) – leaving the Defense appropriations bill (HR 3326) for a later date.
This fall, Congress has shown its ability to make major legislation available to us, the public, for at least 72 hours – and sometimes longer. Given just how much money is involved in these bills, and the history of how they’ve been passed over the last two decades, it’s especially important that we remain diligent in holding Congress accountable for making sure we know what they’re up to.
We know that Congress is capable of getting legislation online for 72 hours before debate – even on contentious issues. Let’s make sure they do it with the bills that appropriate our tax dollars.
We’re going to be watching very closely. Stay tuned.
* Source: Congressional Research Services reports: Omnibus Appropriations Acts: Overview of Recemt Practices (RL32473) and The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction (97-684 GOV).
** Page number counts from GPO. Read time before floor debate calculated by ReadtheBill.org Educational Fund using data from Thomas.
*** Senate read times are approximate because the chamber does not keep timestamps of its actions. The times listed are the maximum possible time senators could have had to read the bills.