Appropriations, the Only Legislation Congress Must Pass Every Year

by Guest Blogger, 11/14/2003

An omnibus appropriation bills seems all but inevitable, since Congress still hasn't passed eight of the thirteen appropriations bills that fund government.

Many people are finding it harder and harder to understand why Congress keeps pulling all-nighters and marathon sessions, but seems unable to pass the only legislation that it is mandated to pass every year. Congress has failed to pass the appropriations necessary to fund the government for the 2004 fiscal year, which already started on Oct. 1, 2003. The fourth continuing resolution extends funding for all appropriations that have not yet been passed until Nov. 21, which is when Congress hopes to begin its recess for the holidays.

There are thirteen appropriations bills. NOTE: "Homeland Security" is a new appropriations category, but there are still thirteen appropriations bills since the Treasury-Postal category is now included in the Transportation category (now the Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill). For more details on the bills and links, see Thomas Status of FY 2004 Appropriations Bills.

The following bills have been passed and signed into law by President Bush:

· Defense
· Homeland Security
· Legislative Branch
· Interior

The following bill is awaiting the President’s signature:

· Military Construction

Two conference reports have been completed, but still need to be voted on by the House and Senate:

· Energy and Water
· Transportation-Treasury

Three bills are currently in conference:

· Labor-HHS
· Foreign Operations
· Agriculture

Three bills have passed the House and have still not passed the Senate:

· Commerce-Justice-State
· District of Columbia
· VA-HUD

It appears that an omnibus spending bill is inevitable and will include Commerce-Justice-State, DC, and VA-HUD, and probably at least a couple of the three bills in conference, most likely Labor-HHS (stalled over the Labor Department's proposed over-time rule) and Agriculture (stalled because of a proposed one-year delay in country-of-origin labeling of meat).

An omnibus bill makes passage of disputed appropriations bills easier -- an objectionable provision in one bill may get ignored in the effort to pass the remaining appropriations. Also, an omnibus bill is often a vehicle for other legislation, which may have nothing to do with appropriations. This omnibus bill will likely be used for a number of non-spending provisions, including authorization bills that have not been passed.

Omnibus bills do not make good legislation. Many will not know what is in the bill, including members of Congress who will be voting on its provisions. Dumping a bunch of disparate appropriations into one bill, adding extraneous provisions, and voting on the whole thing is no way to thoughtfully and carefully make appropriations for various departments.

Whether Congress will get its legislative business done by Nov. 21 is unknown, and it is entirely possible that they will be back after Thanksgiving.