Each year, the U.S. Congress is responsible for developing a federal budget and must pass 12 bills to appropriate the next year’s discretionary federal spending. These bills reflect the priorities of the Members and the Congressional budget process is intended to allow for separate inspection and approval of proposed expenditures.
For the first two hundred years of our nation’s history nearly every federal budget was proposed, considered and accepted in this fashion. However, since the late 1970s, the Congress has frequently forgone the traditional budgeting procedure and chosen to utilize omnibus spending bills. Omnibus packages offer members of Congress an expedited voting process, combining what is ostensibly all 12 appropriations bills into one decision presented to the whole. This methodology saves the Legislative Branch a great deal of time.
Some contend that the resulting bills are too long and virtually no Congressional office can give them proper attention before a vote. Others contend that the density of omnibus spending bills create a public smokescreen, burying controversial measures, avoiding scrutiny, and tacking on wasteful appropriations intended to favor specific constituents or special-interest groups. Further arguments highlight the structural weaknesses that occur when spending decisions are separated from the committees that are charged to provide oversight.
Join the Federalist Society’s Article I Initiative as our panel deliberates this important contemporary topic. Does the current appropriations process and eventual omnibus legislation improve how our Congress functions or weaken it? Does the apparent efficiency come at the expense of proper deliberation and scrutiny?
- David Hoppe, President Hoppe Strategies
- Professor Frances Lee, Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland