H.J.Res. 2 – Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003


Summary

In February 2003, after a long four-month wait on negotiations, the House gave its members 6 hours and the Senate gave its members less than 16 hours to read, review and understand a 1,507-page conference report on a $389 billion omnibus spending package.

Rep. David Obey (D-WI) called it “the biggest back-room deal in terms of spending in the Nation’s history,” brought to the floor by a “god-awful process.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called it “the largest appropriations bill in the history of this country.”


Overview

    Congress: 108th

    Date: February 2003

    Majority party: Republicans (House & Senate)

    Bill sponsor: Rep. Bill Young (R-FL)

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

    President: George W. Bush


Timeline

Methodology

House action on conference report
6 hours, 7 minutes to read 1,507-page conference report.

    Thu. 2/13/2003 (6:02 AM) – House and Senate conferees file H.Rept. 108-10, the conference report to accompany H.J.Res. 2.

    Thu. 2/13/2003 (11:00 AM) — Senators receive conference report during “late morning”, according to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). BEGIN READING

    Thu. 2/13/2003 (5:08 PM) — House adopts H.Res. 71, a rule waiving all points of order against the conference report, including the three-day layover requirement, by voice vote.

    Thu. 2/13/2003 (5:11 PM) – House begins floor consideration of the conference report pursuant to rthe provisions of H.Res. 71. END READING

    Thu. 2/13/2003 (6:58 PM) – House approves the conference report by a vote of 338-83.

Senate action on conference report
Up to 16 hours to read 1,507-page conference report.

    Thu. 2/13/2003 (6:02 AM) – House and Senate conferees file >H.Rept. 108-10 (1,507 pages).

    Thu. 2/13/2002 (11:00 AM) — Senators receive conference report during “late morning”, according to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). BEGIN READING

    Thu. 2/13/2003 – Senate begins floor consideration of conference report. END READING

    Thu. 2/13/2003 (10:14 PM) – Senate approves the conference report by a vote of 76-20.

Additional actions

    Thu. 2/20/2003 — President Bush signs H.J.Res. 2 into law.

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Background

The appropriations process for the fiscal year 2003 suffered several setbacks throughout the final months of 2002. With Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in control of the Senate, major disagreements over where to spend and where to cut stalled the budget process entirely.

Another conflict arose between House Republican moderates and conservatives over how much federal money would go to the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. “I can’t imagine how it’s going to turn out, it’s really frustrating,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). His comments were mirrored by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) who told The Hill newspaper in 2002, “I’m annoyed.” The Senator said, “To do appropriations bills is the basic management of government.”

Added to the frustration of an impasse between Republicans and Democrats was the inability of individual members facing tough re-election battles to attach earmarks for district projects to the omnibus bill. “It makes me impatient and I would like to see both sides come to an agreement,” said former Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) who would go on to lose her seat in Nov. 2002 to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). When Republicans gained control of the Senate after the 2002 midterm elections, they moved quickly to pass their version of the appropriations resolution for the fiscal year 2003, postponed only to play out a short disagreement between House and Senate Republicans over discretionary funding.

The two chambers finally came to an agreement on Feb. 13, 2003 – four months after the beginning of the fiscal year.

Policy criticisms by others

A report issued by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities criticized Congress for the cuts in the FY2003 omnibus bill. The report stated:

Many of the cuts in the omnibus appropriations bill would take money out of the economy now. For example, the $101 million cut in the Child Care and Development Block Grant means that $101 million less would be spent assisting poor working families to pay for child care.

A joint statement released by the Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars criticized the bill for underfunding veterans health programs:

The current funding amount is a betrayal of the assurances we were given. Either the funding amount for veterans’ health care must be increased by $1.8 billion, or the VA-HUD appropriations bill must be defeated.


Process criticisms by ReadtheBill.org

After the House passed a continuing resolution at the end of Jan. 2003, the Senate attached the entirety of its FY2003 appropriations as an amendment and sent the bill to conference. In between Jan. 2003 and Feb. 2003, majority control of the Senate switched hands from the Democrats to the Republicans. With new leverage, House and Senate negotiators filed a conference report on H.J.Res. 2 on Feb. 13, 2003 at 6:02 AM.

Little more than 90 minutes after the conference report was filed, the House Rules Committee reported H.Res. 71, which waived all points of order against the conference report including the three-day layover requirement. The House approved H.Res. 71 by voice vote. Later that day, Rep. C.W. Young (R-FL) brought up the conference report at 5:11 PM and the House began one hour of debate.

The haste with which the conference report was moved through the House irked many members, including Rep. David Obey (D-WI), who expressed the frustration in an exchange with Chairman Young. Rep. Obey said:

…before Members decide how they want to vote, I think they need to understand that this legislation is a god-awful mess brought to the floor by a god-awful process.
About $360 billion, or 90 percent, of the $400 billion in spending contained in this bill, never came before the House of Representatives until it arrived in this one huge take-it-or-leave-it package today. That means 90 percent of the domestic budget involving hundreds of individual programs was never subjected to debate or amendment in the United States House of Representatives.
What you have here, as I said earlier, is the biggest back-room deal in terms of spending in the Nation’s history. And when you have a back-room deal which is not ever aired in public that means a lot of people are going to get hurt, and a lot of people are going to get things that they should not get.

Some conservative Republicans shared outrage over the process. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said:

The bill and conference report beside me, I would lift it but it is tough. It is about a foot and a half tall. We were given this document around noon today, if we could get a hard copy. That indeed was difficult as it was. So we have that amount of time to go through this.
I disagree that if one flips through this bill a person can find a few things wrong. It is tough to find much right about this bill. I object to the process as well as the product.
We had a House rule which says that we ought to have 3 days to review any omnibus bill like this. We are given a couple of hours. We waived that provision. We should not have.

Despite the protest from some House members, the conference report passed with overwhelming support, by a vote of 338-83.

The Senate considered the conference report immediately following House passage. Likewise, some Senators expressed reservations about the speed of the process. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stated:

I hope Members understand we did not receive this bill until sometime late morning and it is… the largest bill in the history of Congress… I think it is several thousand pages. I believe, in all candor, in order to review it, my staff would have to stay up all night… We are not finished by a long shot reviewing the bill. It is the largest appropriation in the history of this country. At least in my mind, it deserves scrutiny and comment.

The Senate also approved the conference report, by a vote of 76-20.