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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Omnibus Appropriations Acts: Overview of Recent Practices

Jessica Tollestrup
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process

Omnibus appropriations acts have become a significant feature of the legislative process in recent years as Congress and the President have used them more frequently to bring action on the regular appropriations cycle to a close. Following a discussion of pertinent background information, this report reviews the recent enactment of such measures and briefly addresses several issues raised by their use.

For nearly two centuries, regular appropriations acts were considered by the House and Senate as individual measures and enacted into law as freestanding laws. In 1950, the House and Senate undertook a one-time experiment in improving legislative efficiency by considering all of the regular appropriations acts for FY1951 in a single bill, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1950. The following year, the House and Senate returned to the practice of considering the regular appropriations acts individually.

During the 28-fiscal year period covering FY1986-FY2013, a total of 334 regular appropriations bills were enacted into law. Of these measures, 191 (57.5%) were enacted as freestanding measures and 142 (42.5%) were enacted in omnibus measures. On average, each year nearly seven (6.8) regular appropriations acts were enacted into law as freestanding measures and about five (5.1) were enacted into law in omnibus measures.

During this period, 19 different omnibus measures were enacted into law for 16 different fiscal years (two separate omnibus appropriations acts were enacted for FY2001, FY2009, and FY2012). Each of the measures funded between 2 and 13 regular appropriations acts, on average funding about 7 (7.5) of them.

Fifteen of the omnibus measures were bills or joint resolutions carrying the designation “omnibus,” “consolidated,” or “omnibus consolidated” appropriations in the title; six were titled as continuing appropriations acts (FY1986, FY1987, FY1988, FY2009, the first for FY2012, and FY2013); and one was the VA-HUD Appropriations Act for FY2001, which also included the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act for FY2001.

In addition to the customary concern—of sacrificing the opportunity for debate and amendment for greater legislative efficiency—that arises whenever complex legislation is considered under time constraints, the use of omnibus appropriations acts has generated controversy for other reasons. These include whether adequate consideration was given to regular appropriations acts prior to their incorporation into omnibus appropriations legislation, the use of across-the-board rescissions, and the inclusion of significant legislative (rather than funding) provisions.

Date of Report: April 23, 2013
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RL32473
Price: $29.95

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