H.J. Res. 738 – Making Continuing Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 1987

Summary

The House passed its versions of 11 of the 13 regular appropriations bills necessary to fund the government in fiscal year 1987. However, the Senate cleared none. Two weeks into the fiscal year and faced with the prospect of a government shut-down, Congress quickly bundled the 11 previously passed bills plus appropriations for Defense and Foreign Ops into a massive omnibus spending package. The 808-page conference report on the spending resolution was filed at 5:15 p.m. on October 15. Representatives had fewer than three hours to read it before debate began. The House approved it by 9:35 p.m., and Senators agreed to it by voice vote the next day, after a 15-minute debate with fewer than 22 hours to review it beforehand. Worth $576 billion, at the time it was the “largest single appropriations measure ever considered by Congress” according to Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR). Even the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jamie Whitten (D-MS) agreed it was “a poor way to run a railroad.”

Overview

    Congress: 99th

    Date: October 1986

    Majority party: Democrats (House), Republicans (Senate)

    Bill sponsor: Rep. Jamie L. Whitten (D-MS)

    Committees of jurisdiction: House Committee on Appropriations, Senate Committee on Appropriations

    President: Ronald Reagan

Timeline
Methodology

House action on conference report
2 hours, 50 minutes to read 808-page conference report.

    Wed., 10/15/1986 (5:15 PM) — Conferees file H. Rpt. 99-1005, the conference report to accompany H.J. Res. 738. BEGIN READING
    Wed., 10/15/1986 (7:10 PM) — House brings up H.Res. 593, a rule providing for the consideration of the conference report if the conference report and amendments in disagreement have been available to the members for one hour; and waiving all points of order against the conference report.
    Wed., 10/15/1986 (7:45 PM) — House passes H.Res. 593 by vote of 281-122 (Roll number 471.)
    Wed., 10/15/1986 (8:05 PM) — House begins consideration of conference report. END READING
    Wed., 10/15/1986 (9:35 PM) — House agrees to conference report by vote of 235 – 172 (Record Vote No: 472)

Senate action on conference report
22 hours to read 808-page conference report.

    Wed., 10/15/1986 (5:15 PM) — Conferees file H.Rpt. 99-1005, the conference report to accompany H.J. Res. 738. BEGIN READING
    Thurs., 10/16/1986 (3:10 PM) — Senate begins consideration of conference report. END READING
    Thurs., 10/16/1986 (3:25 PM) — Senate agrees to conference report by voice vote.

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Background

On October 15, during debate in the House on the adoption of the rule H.Res. 593, Rep. Butler Derrick (D-SC) explained the process:

Mr. Speaker, this rule will allow the House to work its will on one of the three remaining budget-related bills which must be finalized before this Congress can adjourn. The temporary short-term continuing resolution will expire tonight. The continuing resolution which this rule will make in order provides funding for all of fiscal year 1987.
I believe it important to note, Mr. Speaker, that prior to consideration of this continuing resolution, the House had completed action on 11 of 13 regular appropriations bills for the fiscal year which began on the first of this month, fiscal 1987. The two which the House did not consider—Defense and Foreign Operations—were, nonetheless, reported from the committee on Appropriations prior to being incorporated into this continuing resolution.
Mr. Speaker, while I have never believed that continuing resolutions are the best way to fund Federal activities, I must note that the House had made very considerable progress toward adopting all the regular appropriations bills, as separate bills, before the late date and nonaction on these matters in the other Chamber made this procedure necessary….The conference on the legislation was concluded last evening. And as I’ve already noted, the temporary short-term continuing resolution under which we are presently operating will run out tonight. It is, therefore, imperative that we move this legislation forward.

Rep. Bob Traxler (D-MI) laid blame with the Senate for the situation:

For whatever reasons, it is important to note that 11 of the 13 appropriation bills for fiscal year 1987 have passed the House in reasonable, responsible time, to be acted upon by the other body, to have a conference and to have the separate 13 bills go to the President. There was plenty of time….
The House has performed its task admirably. To those who want to criticize the process, I suggest they go to the other side of the dome and down to the end of the street that leads to the White House. For whatever reasons, those people are not prepared to move the individual appropriation bills on to the President and the shoe fits them and it is darn tight.

During House consideration of the conference report, Rep. Jamie Whitten (D-MS) agreed it was a bad process, but urged the adoption of the resolution:

Mr. Speaker, I bring to you the conference report on the continuing resolution, which the press and many Members describe as a poor way to operate. I agree with them for many reasons….
I hope my colleagues will listen to this, because this bill was as carefully prepared as any that we have. It just happens to come up at the same time….
The point I make is, contrary to what we read, and some of our colleagues say, this bill is a reproduction of and actually a repassing of the bills that the Congress passed some time ago.
On those bills, the regular appropriations subcommittees spent months in hearings; all the work that normally goes into them. We sent them to the Senate, after being held up, and they did not come back in a timely fashion.
So while we are handling all these bills together here, and it is a poor way to run a railroad. We are the last train; and we have been drafted to take this work….
I mention this so you may know that while we consider this bill, it is the same bill that we have voted for overwhelmingly. We had to put together the 13 bills because the other body did not act on the bills that we sent to them in time to do otherwise.
I ask your support for this. If we do not pass this, as we know, our time limit expires at 12 o’clock tonight. If we do not adopt this resolution it is our responsibility that the Government has to close its doors.

During consideration of the conference report in the Senate on October 16, Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR) defended the bill:

Mr. President, notwithstanding where we are historically at this moment, this is a good piece of legislation and a satisfying result to a long and difficult year in the appropriations process. It is the product of a year of hearing by 13 subcommittees, 13 subcommittee markups, 13 full committee markups, 1 week of debate on the floor of the Senate, and 10 full days in conference with the House of Representatives….
I hope we can proceed in an expeditious way, adopt the conference report, act on the amendments remaining in true disagreement and conclude congressional action on this continuing resolution.

Sen. John C. Stennis (D-MS) also defended the bill:

We have to pass on it. There are a few points where agreement was not reached. They are few and far-reaching. I think we can work out something on that, make the choice and vote on them. I am afraid it would hinder and delay and injure this bill if we do not proceed now to prompt consideration and I hope prompt passage.

Rep. Joseph McDade (R-PA) defended the bill as the best the committee could do in a most trying year:

I have been in this House for 24 years. In that time, I have never seen a more complicated, more stressful, more confused situation than what our committee faced this year in putting together the defense bill.
You all know the problems we faced: Severe dollar restraints because of Gramm-Rudman, serious policy disputes over arms control, and until late last night, no solid agreement on an authorization to give us the parameters within which we would work….
This bill certainly isn’t perfect, and I’m not here to tell you that it is. But I can tell you that you will not see a better bill if the continuing resolution fails….
Going back to it again won’t make anyone any happier. We were in conference 7 days and 7 nights looking at more than 3,000 individual line items.
Mr. Speaker, as nearly as I can tell, no one is satisfied with the defense bill. It is either too high or too low. It is either too restrictive or too permissive. It does too much or it does too little.
I suggest therefore, that our work product is about the best we can do.

Policy criticisms by others

During House consideration, Rep. John Porter (R-IL) said:

Mr. Speaker, the conference report is upon us. It is big, it is ugly, it is irresponsible, and it is probably over budget. It’s hard to tell how badly over budget it may be—it’s hard to even know what’s in it because it was just reported this morning. Many of the subcommittee conference reports aren’t even available. We’re voting on almost $600 billion in spending and the ink isn’t even dry on the bill….
This Congress has not met a number it cannot fudge, it has not met a procedural obstacle it cannot dodge, and it has not met a budget deficit that it cannot exceed….
Beyond the gimmickry, beyond the overspending, there is substantive legislation in this bill. Trade provisions relating to imported alcohol and steel for oil rigs. Labor provisions incorporating the undeveloped and and hopelessly confused construction industry amendments. Last time I checked, there was an amendment to the tax reform bill.
So this continuing resolution is part of the process, an irresponsible process that includes phony budget resolutions and phony deficit reduction bills. This omnibus spending bill is just too big and it is part of the reason when all the actual numbers are toted up a year from now, the American people will find out the truth—that we will have missed the Gramm-Rudman deficit target of $144 billion for fiscal year 1987 by $50 billion.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) urged Democrats to vote against the bill because Republicans were voting no but hoping it would pass:

Mr. Speaker, I hope we defeat this conference report.
The President of the United States says it is an OK spending level. You may remember, some of you, a few weeks ago, when we heard ringing denunciations of the fact that this was the largest spending in history.
Of course, it is, to a certain extent. The country gets bigger and we grow every year. That is a profundity on the order of saying that a child gets bigger every year of his or her life. The question is the rate of growth.
But this Chamber was ringing with Republican denunciations of this big spending. We have had about 50-something odd minutes of debate. During that 50 minutes on that continuing resolution, we have had one 2-minute speech by a Republican against it. The tigers have been caged, apparently. The President has spoken.
What has happened is a game that is coming somewhat to an end. It is a game of Members on the other side voting “no” and praying “yes” on appropriations bills.
Members have wanted the bills to pass and have wanted to vote “no” so they can then denounce people for big spending when they knew it was an appropriate level.
The level of spending in this continuing resolution, is approximately the level that called forth the most stunning denunciations. One Member said, “This costs more than the Hanging Gardens of Nebuchadnezzar.” He did not pronounce it as well as I.
Well, yes, star wars does. Star wars does cost more than the hanging gardens. A hanging nuclear system costs a lot more than hanging gardens….
Ronald Reagan says he is for this bill. I would not want to give him a quiz on what is in it, but he says he is for it and he can live with the spending level.
The Director of the OMB, Mr. Miller, from the office of mirrors and blue smoke, he says it is OK, too. He does not like a couple of the added provisions.
So what is at issue in this bill? What is at issue in this bill is aid to the Contras. The spending level is apparently not an issue. Ronald Reagan says it is fine. Jim Miller says that Ronald Reagan is OK, so the spending level is OK.
The tigers of fiscal responsibility seem to have gone away. Maybe they are all watching the ball game or maybe they are in a ball game, but they certainly are not denouncing the level of spending.
What are we talking about here? We are talking about arms control measures that we voted for and we said we cannot tie Ronald Reagan’s hands. I said last week and I am going to repeat it. Being accused of keeping Ronald Reagan from reaching an arms control agreement is like being accused of keeping Gandhi from eating a steak dinner. He was not going to do it anyway….

Rep. Porter (R-IL) challenged Frank’s statement:

Mr. Speaker, I assume the gentleman was in watching the ball game when the rule was under consideration and I made 5 minutes of remarks against the continuing resolution and other Members of this side of the aisle did, too.

Rep. Frank responded:

…Yes, we did get a 5-minute speech against the bill on the rule and maybe we will get a speech against the rule on the bill, but we did not get many speeches against the bill on the bill, because people want this. They want the money for the Contras and they do not want any arms control.
I am going to vote against this and I hope other Members will, too. Vote against this on behalf of truth in advertising.

Rep. Vic Fazio (D-CA) was one of many Members who criticized the process but enthusiastically urged adoption of the resolution as the best Congress could do:

As a matter of procedure, of course, enacting the entire Federal discretionary budget in one sweeping measure is undesirable. Too many of the issues resolved in this bill will go unremarked upon. No doubt there are many which could be improved upon were we to enjoy the time to focus on them.

Process criticisms by ReadtheBill.org

During debate on the rule, Rep. Trent Lott (R-MS) said the process “stinks”:

Mr. Speaker, finally we have a conference report on the continuing resolution, I think. I hurriedly say I think because during the Rules Committee meeting yesterday we had not seen the report. A report had not been filed at that time. But the distinguished chairman of the committee, Mr. Whitten, promised us that the report would be ready and would be filed today and that it would be available to the Members for at least 1 hour before it was called up for consideration. I understand that that time has been met and that it is now, in very lengthy form, available to the Members for review….
This is no way to do business. The process stinks. The procedure stinks and the result probably stinks, in more ways than I would care to enumerate.
But we need a continuing resolution to keep the Government in operation and so that we can hopefully bring this session of Congress to a conclusion.
So with no great glee, but with an admission of reality, we have no option and I would urge the adoption of the rule.

[CONFIRM IT’S HIM AND NOT ANOTHER MEMBER: Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)] said he was not given a chance to look at the numbers in his subcommittee’s portion of the bill:

Because of the pressure of time, we found ourselves in the Foreign Operations Subcommittee unable to deal in that fashion. Today in that subcommittee I had no chance to look at the numbers in my subcommittee report and therefore was not able to sign the report.
I urge Members to seriously consider their vote and vote “no” on the continuing resolution.

Rep. Robert Walker (R-PA) criticized the process crafted by the House Rules Committee:

Mr. Speaker, for the Members who may not have seen it, this is the bill which the rule takes under consideration. Many of you may not have had a chance to see it yet because it has only been out here for about an hour. It is about a $500 to $600 billion bill, just a minor little item that we bring to the floor here fairly hastily.
I will tell the membership, however, that that hour that you had to consider this particular measure is an hour more than the Committee on Rules took before they wrote this rule. The Committee on Rules did not even have this bill before it when they wrote that rule, and yet they managed to waive all points of order against this particular piece of legislation.
It seems to me that that is very interesting. The committee on Rules has told us now on a couple coming to the floor today that they are very reluctant to bring bills out here waiving all points of order against consideration of the bill.
The question becomes, what kind of process is this? Is this the kind of process that we should have in the House of Representatives for the process of bringing legislation to this floor?
One of the amendments that is in this particular bill, we also waived points of order against. The Members ought to be very interested in this particular amendment. It is called the Federal building fund, and the reason why we are waiving the points of order against it is because there are buildings that were put into the bill that had not passed either the House or the other body. They managed to just divvy up some goodies in the conference committee, and then they come to the floor and they waive all points of order against it. It is several million dollars. We have got about $32 million for a project in Chicago. There are a couple of million dollars in there for a project in Miami, and heaven knows what else.
But we waived the points of order against them and so on, and we are going to be told that this is the responsible approach to governing.
I would suggest that anybody who votes for this rule and votes for this bill and then tells us about how responsible the House of Representatives is on spending just cannot be very realistic.
This is a totally irresponsible approach to spending. It is a totally irresponsible approach to our own rules.
This is a slightly smaller document than what we are considering. It is called the House Rules Book. We might as well rip it up. The committee on Rules keeps coming out here; there is no sense putting the money out next year for printing it because the House just waives the rules that are in this rule book every time we want to.
We get to the end of the session; we come up with a $600 billion bill and we decide that the rules do not make any difference anymore. I do not know why we have the Committee on Rules around here having this function. We could spend this irresponsibly without doing it under a rules process.
I suggest to the membership that a no vote on this rule would be the most responsible vote you would cast in this Congress.

Rep. Richard Armey (R-TX) said that combining the bills into an omnibus package made it impossible for President Reagan to do his job of judging each bill on its merits:

Mr. Speaker, we are now 15 days into the fiscal year 1987. Let us review the process.
Have we done our job? No, we have not done our job. In the legislative calendar we would have throughout 1986 prior to this time, before October 1, have passed 13 separate appropriations bills. They would have gone through both bodies and to the President where he would have had the opportunity to veto them or to sign them. Had he vetoed them, he could have identified in each of the separate bills those particular items that he disapproved and we would then have had time to reconsider them and decide whether we want to override his veto or not….
If we pass this continuing resolution tonight and pass over $500 billion in the largest single expenditure in the history of the human race, at one fell swoop we will have then taken the President’s veto power away from him, unless he is willing to veto the entire budget 2 weeks into the fiscal year and shut down the Government because we are late and we have not done our work….
We have not done our job. I think we ought to admit that we are responsible for putting the President in an impossible position. Vote no on the rule and on the continuing resolution.

During consideration of the conference report, Rep. Silvio Conte (R-MA) criticized the lack of detailed debate when considering the bills as one package but blamed budget process reforms:

Mr. Speaker, we went to conference with 126 Senate amendments. Six remain in disagreement. The remaining 120 amendments cover all 13 appropriations bills, and all programs and projects that are funded through annual appropriations.
Those 120 amendments are before the House in a single package. I do not agree with all of the recommendations of the conferees, but my specific disagreements are not sufficient for me to vote against all of the programs that I support.
I know that many of my colleagues do not look at the continuing resolution in terms of the individual programs that are funded, but rather as a system that has failed.
I agree that the system has failed.
It is an outrage that we must vote on appropriations of $576 billion with only an hour’s debate, and with no opportunity to offer amendments.
It is an outrage that this conference agreement contains numerous legislative provisions, including several complete authorization bills.
It is an outrage that 2 weeks after the beginning of the fiscal year we have not enacted a single appropriations bill.
At the most fundamental level the system has failed, because it denies us the opportunity to debate and vote on many individual legislative issues.
I share the frustration of my colleagues—particularly the more junior Members of this House.
Although I have now served for 28 years, and am privileged to be the ranking minority member of the Committee on Appropriations, I have very vivid memories of my early years as a junior Member of this House. There was frustration, but the legislative process worked, and even the most junior Member could share in a sense of accomplishment and pride in the institution.
Today the legislative process does not work; and this continuing resolution is the most dramatic illustration that I can imagine of terminal paralysis.
But it is only a symbol. These problems are not caused by the Appropriations Committee, or by this continuing resolution.
They are caused by procedural gimmicks such as the Congressional Budget Act and Gramm-Rudman-Hollings that we have used to avoid difficult political choices.
Last December we brought a conference report to this House and it was voted down, in large part as a protest against the system. That protest accomplished absolutely nothing, because you will be aiming at the wrong target.
Appropriation bills and legislative provisions are in this continuing resolution because they could not be enacted within a legislative process that has been virtually paralyzed for the first 10 months of this year.
If you want to protest, change that process.

Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-MN) said of the bill that “no one knows what is in it”:

Mr. Speaker, I oppose the conference report.
Once again, we are being asked to accept a comprehensive spending bill because we have failed to follow our own budget and spending process. This year’s performance has been the worst ever, with not one appropriations bill being passed separately. This bill is the largest single appropriation ever, but no one here knows, or can know, what is in it.
We do not know exactly how much this bill will cost. The committee has provided us with a figure for total Budget Authority and an outlay estimate. However, to my knowledge the outlay figure is nothing more than a rough guess. I have been unable to obtain a CBO-prepared cost estimate.
We have voted for plenty of irresponsible bills, under plenty of irresponsible procedures, but this one is about as bad as any I have seen. The bill is a foot thick, and no one knows what is in it. About the only fact of which I am sure is that it spends too much money.
I do know that the bill’s cost is too great. I am concerned that the HUD and Commerce/Justice/State portions of the bill will prove too costly, though no breakdown is available. The bill also fails to hold the line on defense, both across the board and in specific items. The strategic defense initiative (SDI), for example, is funded at $3.5 billion, well above the House’s freeze-plus-inflation figure of $3.1 billion. On most other programs, I have been unable to obtain specific figures, but I am sure many have been granted similar increases.
Mr. Speaker, my fundamental objection is that this continuing resolution is too big and too hasty, and much too unknown. It is sure to contain pork. We just don’t know how much. It is sure to fail to hold the line on spending overall. I oppose the shoddy procedures and this bad bill. And I urge all Members to vote no.

Rep. Larry Combest (R-TX) said passing a bulky omnibus was irresponsible, and criticized the process for combining worthy bills into a measure that was fiscally reckless overall:

Mr. Speaker, today the House is considering a massive spending package which encompasses 13 fiscal year 1987 individual appropriations, and I intend to vote against this measure. I am compelled, however, to express my disappointment in having to oppose some worthy legislative measures which are trapped in the folds of the largest single spending bill in history.
The practice of carrying out the congressional appropriation process through passage of a bulky, omnibus measure is irresponsible and completely contrary to our democratic process. True democratic representation is impossible when the Nation’s Federal spending allocations are carried on in this manner.
It is unfortunate that good legislation is inextricable from this burdensome measure….
It is my view that representative democracy is denied in this distortion of our appropriations process called a continuing resolution. Because I am opposed to tremendous spending increases which expand the burden of our Federal deficit, I am forced to oppose responsible and sound legislative measures. Clearly, Mr. Speaker, the continuing resolution evidences the worst of Congress’ fiscal irresponsibility.

During Senate consideration of the resolution on October 16, senators feeling the pressure of time had little to say against the bill or the process.

Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-OR) acknowledged the undesirable situation, but urged adoption of the resolution:

Mr. President, we all know that this is the largest single appropriation measure ever considered by the Congress. It embraces the funding recommendations and general provisions normally covered in the 13 regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 1987. The conference agreement recommends funding levels of $557.2 billion, more than a half trillion dollars. The conference report and the accompanying statement of managers total more than 1,200 pages, and I might raise it for all to see. Over 8 inches high, it weighs 18 1/4 pounds. That is the funding mechanism for the coming year. Not to only say that it is a massive piece of legislation, but I agree with those who argue we should not deal with the financing of Government operations in this manner.
I do not know anyone who is happy about this process at this moment.

Sen. John C. Stennis (D-MS) also criticized the process while urging adoption of the resolution:

I want to make it clear that I do not approve of the idea of resorting to a method that puts 13 appropriations bills into the same bill before the body for debate and for passage or rejection. I think that will gradually erode and ruin the committee system. The committee system is what the Senate is better known for and its better work is done there.