H.J.Res. 395 – Further Continuing Appropriations Act, FY 1988


Summary

In late 1987, Congress passed an omnibus bill containing all 13 regular fiscal 1988 appropriations bills just a few days before the government was due to run out of money. In the rush to adjourn, consideration of H.J.Res. 395 began on the same night that Congress was considering a full budget resolution for the fiscal year 1988. Conferees filed their conference report, H.Rept. 100-498, at 1 a.m. the night of December 21. The House had already approved a rule waiving all points of order against it fifteen minutes earlier, and consideration began immediately. The 1,194-page conference report was not even available to Members, who were given short summaries until the full text appeared during debate. Sen. Daniel Evans (R-WA) called the summaries “a scam suggestion, a whisper, of what is in this massive continuing resolution.” The House approved H.J. Res. 395 by a narrow vote of 209-208. At 3:30 a.m. that night, the Senate passed it by a vote of 59-30. During House consideration, Rep. John R. Miller (R-WA) decried the packaging of crucial spending measures: “That means we either vote for everything, including programs we just do not need, or we vote for nothing and shut the Government down, and that is Legislative blackmail. That is not the way the budget process is supposed to work and this institution should do better.”


Overview

    Congress: 100th

    Date: December 1987

    Majority party: Democrats (House), Democrats (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
No time to read 1,194-page conference report.

    Tue. 12/22/1987 (12:45 AM) – House approves H.Res. 343, a rule which waives all points of order against the conference report, by a vote of 238-179.

    Tue. 12/22/1987 (1:00 AM) – House and Senate conferees file H.Rept. 100-498, the conference report to accompany H.J.Res. 395. BEGIN READING

    Tue. 12/22/1987 (1:00 AM) – House begins consideration of the conference report under the provisions of H.Res. 343. END READING

    Tue. 12/22/1987 (2:15 AM) – House approves the conference report by a vote of 209-208.

Senate action on the conference report
Less than 2 hours to read 1,194-page conference report.

    Mon. 12/21/1987 (1:00 AM) – House and Senate conferees file H.Rept. 100-498, the conference report to accompany H.J.Res. 395. BEGIN READING

    Tue. 12/22/1987 – Senate begins consideration of the conference report. END READING

    Tue. 12/22/1987 (3:30 AM) – Senate approves the conference report by a vote of 59-30.

Additional Actions

    Tue. 12/22/1987 – Cleared for White House.
    Tue. 12/22/1987 – President Ronald Reagan signs H.J.Res. 395 into law.

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Background

In the waning days of 1987, Congress was tasked with accomplishing a single legislative feat: approve a bill that allowed further appropriations for the fiscal year 1988. Despite knowing that legislation of this nature would eventually have to be passed to keep the federal goverment running, House leaders continued to postpone action.

The House, controlled by Democrats, postponed it to the very last minute. It was not until the federal government was faced with a shut down that Congress began to move on the legislation.


Policy criticisms by others

During the debate, Sen. John R. Miller (R-WA) said:

If the process is bad, the substance is worse. This spending bill does nothing to reduce the massive Federal budget deficit. In fact, under this bill Federal spending would increase over $50 billion in 1988.


Process criticisms by ReadtheBill.org

On the House floor debate over the rule waiving all points of order against the conference report, Rep. Delbert L. Latta (R-OH) said, “I believe that there is not one single individual in this Congress tonight who knows everything that is in this continuing resolution.”

Stressing the need for a more transparent budgetary process in the months after the debacle, President Ronald Reagan said that H.J.Res. 395 was

slapped together into a single behemoth bill and delivered to me hours before the federal government was due to run out of money. I was faced with the decision to either sign without time for careful consideration or see the federal government shut down.

House minority members blasted the process unfolding in front of them during the short debate on the bill.

Rep. John R. Miller (R-WA) said:

…Hundreds of Federal programs, hundreds of billions of dollars in Federal spending are crammed into one bloated bill. That means we either vote for everything, including programs we just do not need, or we vote for nothing and shut the Government down, and that is Legislative blackmail. That is not the way the budget process is supposed to work and this institution should do better.

Rep. Mike Lowry (D-WA) said:

There are many reasons just about everybody in this room ought to vote against this continuing resolution. Like for one, are my colleagues not a little bit tired of being told the Government is going to shut down tomorrow? I have only been here 9 years, and I do not know how many times they have used it on us.

Rep. Norman Lent (R-NY) said:

We do not serve the public interest when we legislate on important and controversial programs out of the sight of the public, as we are about to do so by considering the omnibus budget reconciliation bill. This process deprives the Members of the House the opportunity to debate the merits of individual programs. It is a disservice to the American public.

Consideration in the Senate began in the wee hours of December 22.

Sen. William Armstrong (R-CO) said:

Madam President, it is my understanding that the conference report on the continuing resolution will soon be here. In the interest of time I thought I would just share a thought or two about it with my colleagues and put a couple of matters in the Record so as to save time when the bill actually arrives.

I do not know how many saw it but the Washington Times of last Friday contained a very perceptive article which summed up, I think, a point that Senators would well reflect on, not only in the middle of the night as we prepare to adopt or at least to act upon the continuing resolution, but for a long time to come. The article begins with these words:
The shadow of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini darkened the floor of the U.S. Senate in the early hours of Dec. 12, 1987.

The article, the perceptive piece by Bruce Fein, goes on to relate something which I never knew. It is that Mussolini’s favorite tactic was to bundle together thousands of laws which he then forced the Italian parliament to vote on en bloc, exactly the tactic which is becoming increasingly prevalent in this Chamber. In a few minutes we are going to be asked to vote on a bill which I guess is 2,000 pages, more or less, which contains hundreds of billions of dollars in appropriations, and which in fact is a matter of only the most general knowledge by any person on Earth so far as I am aware. There may be somebody who could come before us and say I understand in detail what is in this bill. Certainly there will be a handful of Senators who will manage the legislation who will have a good general outline of it, but I cannot imagine that any Senator or staffer really knows in detail what is in it.

I am advised that the administration will be unable to send us a definitive signal as to whether they intend to sign or veto this legislation for the simple reason they have no had it long enough to be able to read it and even know what is in there. But the suspicion, indeed the conviction which many of us have, is that it is per se bad business for us to be legislating in this way. Nor is this an inevitable consequence. We did not have to get ourselves into this fix and for that matter we do not have to get ourselves into this fix even now. We could adopt the suggestion of our friend from Washington, Senator Evans, who said that even if we have to end up a session with a continuing resolution, itself a confession we do not know how to manage our business, at least we could submit by concurrent resolution these titles individually to the President so that they would be subject not to an item veto, but to be considered as individual pieces of legislation, at least 13 separate bills. But instead of that, we roll everything into one piece of legislation, and it is a very, very bad practice.

The point which Mr. Fein makes so well is that by forcing ourselves and permitting ourselves to vote on every thing en bloc, we diffuse the responsibility. We can go home and say to our constituents, well, we voted for this because it had such-and-such provision in it that we thought was good, even though it had other things we thought were bad, or we can easily justify a vote against such a piece of legislation on the same kind of grounds in the reverse. What it really does is remove one of the last, not the last, but one of the last important aspects of accountability in a representative system of Government.

I am going to vote against it because I think it is bad government, I think it is bad procedure because I think the bill itself is extravagant and because, were my point of view to prevail in this Chamber, I think we would be better off even though it would be a great inconvenience. I think we would be better off to split this bill into its component parts and have 13 bills, not one, and if that meant we have to come back in tomorrow, stay a day or two, or even come back after Christmas, I think that would be a small price to pay. I do not realistically entertain the hope that is going to happen although I note with approval that the bill passed in the House by a very, very narrow margin. In fact, someone could correct me, but I understand it passed by a margin of only 209 to 208 or some such.

So if lightning should strike, and if a majority of Senators should decide to turn this bill down, it would not be the end of the world. In fact, it would be a good precedent and the start of a reform movement which is long overdue.

Sen. Daniel Evans (R-WA) said:

Madam President, I too will vote against this continuing resolution as I voted against the reconciliation bill. We are going to be asked very shortly to vote on what I understand is a 2,000 or 2,300 page bill, but where is it?

What do we even have on our desks? What even remotely small summary of this bill do we have? The best I see on my desk right now is a 2- or 3-page summary, which is certainly better than nothing. It comes form the Republican policy Committee, but it is a scam suggestion, a whisper, of what is in this massive continuing resolution.

Madam President, this is more that just a bad way to govern; it is an absurdity. We simply are not doing the job we were all elected to come and do, when we are willing to sit still and vote for abomination like this.

Not that the bill does not contain some good ideas; not that it does not contain some things which are good for my own State of Washington as well as each of the other States of the Union; but because we simply will have no opportunity to examine it in any detail at all. We will have no opportunity to deal with it in its individual pieces. The President, most of all, will have no opportunity to exercise his constitutional right of veto.

Oh yes, he could if he wished to simply stop the Government. But that is no way to govern. It is no way to follow the traditional constitutional balance between the President and the Congress.


Now, Madam President, I see that the continuing resolution, I suspect, has arrived and since it has arrived, I think that I should sit down. But before I do, I shall just note that I am not sure how many pages there are, but the continuing resolution in in a box approximately 1 foot by 1 foot by 1 foot, so we have 1 cubic foot of appropriations. I do not know how many dollars per cubic inch that represents, but it certainly makes the point that we are going to buy off 1 cubic foot of appropriation without having the foggiest notion of the details which lie within that large cardboard box.

Sen. John Stennis (R-MS) said:

Another thing I want to point out is the enormous amount of work involved in this bill for this year. That is indicated by the amount of money it carries, of course. But, the repetitious work, the monstrous amount that is involved at every turn.

If I am permitted to say—no one is blame for this, particularly; I am not trying to assess blame—but, it just takes too much of a Senator’s time to thoroughly master even the elemental facts in order to make a judgment, a worthy judgment.