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What is an Omnibus Bill?

27 June 2016

Have you seen a recent headline about Congress passing an omnibus bill? Curious about what this obscure sounding piece of legislation is? Below we provide a non-partisan explanation of omnibus bills: 

The omnibus bill has been increasingly employed by Congress, yet voters may find this particular type of legislation confusing, and understandably so. Similar to a standard bill, omnibus bills are formal proposals containing statutes or measures that will be considered by the legislative assembly and must be signed into law by the president.  

However, omnibus bills differ in that they contain multiple proposed statutes, appropriations  or  amendments within a single document. Essentially, omnibus bills are a consolidation of multiple bills, often times funding measures for different government agencies or departments, that will be voted on and treated as a single provision, rather than separately.

Combining bills, or packaging legislation, into omnibus bills can increase the chances of a bill's passage, as the combination of multiple measures may be easier for legislators to vote on than the measures would be on their own. Furthermore, Congress is able to expedite the legislative and budget processes by approving or blocking multiple measures at once.
A bill's title often gives a preview of its contents, and the words “consolidated” and “omnibus” are often included in the title of packaged bills and can help voters distinguish an omnibus bill from the many singular bills that Congress deliberates over each session. 

HR 3547 was titled, “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014,” which indicates that it contained multiple appropriation provisions. Appropriation measures are often combined and passed in the form of omnibus bills, which allows Congress to fund multiple government programs or projects at once. 

For example, the 114th Congress voted on and passed an omnibus appropriations bill, H.R.209, that included funding measures for multiple government departments and agencies, including but not limited to the Department of Defense, Department of Labor, and the Department of State. 

Additionally, the bill contained multiple authorizations and provisions, from an authorization of the export of crude oil to a provision prohibiting the use of funds for transferring or releasing individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay. As H.R.209 displays, appropriation measures are often combined into omnibus packages and can include many related provisions, amendments, and authorizations.

Advocates of omnibus bills argue that the packing of multiple amendments and provisions allows for greater legislative efficiency and enhances the chances of a bill’s passage. However, opponents of this type of legislation argue that it is a high-risk tactic that denies members of Congress the ability to thoroughly deliberate over each individual provision of an omnibus bill.

As omnibus bills become commonplace in the congressional legislative process, it is crucial for voters to have access to an understandable summary of the bills that their representatives are voting on. 

Vote Smart breaks down pieces of legislation into a synopsis and highlights key votes in both the House and Senate. This is particularly helpful for lengthy omnibus bills that can be difficult to navigate. You can find more information about HR 3547 and H.R.209 as well as many more bills passed at both the federal and state levels at http://votesmart.org/bills

This blog was written by Ben Hachten, a PCT intern.
 





 

Related tags: blog, congress, Guantanamo-Bay, omnibus-bill

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