What you need to know about the Omnibus bill (2015)


In October, Congress agreed to suspend the debt limit by more than a trillion dollars and increase federal spending by $80 billion over the next two years, smashing the spending caps set in 2011 by the Budget Control Act. But that was just the beginning. What Congress did in October was to draw a blueprint for the impending omnibus spending bill, which is currently being finalized in Congress.

The omnibus bill, much like the one passed in 2013, will be a massive $1.1 trillion piece of legislation that will be like a Christmas tree, filled with gifts to both parties. An Omnibus puts all of the federal government’s discretionary spending for the rest of the fiscal year into an all-or-nothing package. It will likely be similar to the omnibus bill passed a year ago; that one was a grotesque 1,600-page piece of legislation.

It’s not hard to see why Congress would have trouble passing such a monstrosity. Fiscal conservatives are wary of it for obvious reasons: increased debt, federal waste, etc.  That’s why the process for omnibus bills usually involves appeasement to both sides of the aisle, hoping to make just enough lawmakers pleased to get to 218 votes in the House.  As a part of this process, lawmakers attach a mishmash of so-called policy riders, with the theory that reluctant Members could be swayed to vote for the whole package.

Another problem with the process is that Congress once again waits until the last minute to get anything done. This gives bargaining power to Democrats in Congress, who threaten a government shutdown that the media will blame on Republicans. It also means resorting to another 1,000+ page bill in the place of what should be a more deliberate and detailed appropriations process.