Omnibus Appropriations Acts: Overview of Recent Practices

Publication Date: August 2010

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Author(s): Jessica Tollestrup

Research Area: Government

Type: Report


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 25-year period covering FY1986-FY2010, a total of 318 regular appropriations acts were considered that were eventually enacted into law. Of these, 190 (58.5%) were enacted as freestanding measures and 128 (41.5%) were enacted in omnibus legislation. On average, each year nearly eight (7.6) regular appropriations acts were enacted into law as freestanding measures and about five (5.1) were enacted into law in omnibus legislation. During this period, 17 different omnibus measures were enacted into law for 15 different fiscal years (two separate omnibus appropriations acts were enacted for both FY2001 and FY2009). Each of the measures funded between two and 13 regular appropriations acts, on average funding over seven (7.5) of them.

Twelve of the omnibus measures were bills or joint resolutions carrying the designation "omnibus," "consolidated," or "omnibus consolidated" appropriations in the title; four were continuing appropriations acts (FY1986, FY1987, FY1988, and FY2009); one was a continuing resolution (FY2007); 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 spending cuts, and the inclusion of significant legislative (rather than funding) provisions.

This report will be updated as warranted.