H.R. 4328 – Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999


Summary

In October 1998, in a rush to enact tardy spending legislation before adjournment for elections, members of Congress from both parties begrudgingly agreed to this must-pass appropriations act. House members had 6 hours to read the 1,602-page conference report encompassing eight regular (and one emergency) appropriations bills, and myriad other legislation. Senators had less than 21 hours to read it.
During floor debate, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) asked: “Who among the rank-and-file members of the House can say they’ve read and understood the entire package? Heck, half the members couldn’t even lift it, let alone read it.” On the Senate floor, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) stated, “Do I know what’s in this bill? Are you kidding? No. Only God knows what’s in this monstrosity.”


Overview

    Congress: 105th

    Date: October 1998

    Majority party: Republicans (House & Senate)

    Bill sponsor: Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA)

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

    President: Bill Clinton


Timeline

Methodology

House action on conference report
6 hours to read 1,602-page conference report

    Mon. 10/19/1998 (9:00 PM) — Conferees file H. Rept. 105-825, the conference report on H.R. 4328.
    Tue. 10/20/1998 (12:00 PM) — Final drafts of the bill are made available. BEGIN READING
    Tue. 10/20/1998 (5:55 PM) — House passes H. Res. 605, a rule waiving all points of order against the conference report, by a vote of 333 – 88.
    Tue. 10/20/1998 (6:08 PM) — House begins consideration of conference report. END READING
    Tue. 10/20/1998 (7:47 PM) — House approves conference report by a vote of 333 – 95.

Senate action on conference report
Less than 21 hours to read 1,602-page conference report

    Mon. 10/19/1998 (9:00 PM) — Conferees file H. Rept. 105-825, the conference report for H.R. 4328.
    Tue. 10/20/1998 (12:00 PM) — Final drafts of the bill are made available. BEGIN READING
    Wed. 10/21/1998 — Senate begins consideration. END READING
    Wed. 10/21/1998 (9:02 AM) — Senate agrees to conference report by vote of 65-29.

Additional actions

    Wed. 10/21/1998 — Cleared for White House, presented to President, signed by President, became law.

__________________________________________________________


Background

The second session of the 105th Congress was coming to an end. The Nov. 3, 1998 congressional elections were imminent, colored by the forthcoming impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, Congress had passed only four of the thirteen neccessary appropriations bills for fiscal year 1999. In a rush to keep the federal government funded, Congress pieced together a behemoth of an omnibus bill–accounting for nearly one third of all federal spending–and passed it the day before adjournment sine die.

According to an October 21, 1998 article in the Los Angeles Times, the bill

became a magnet for all manner of legislative desiderata–from major policy changes to parochial local projects. In this hodgepodge, legislation to carry out the Chemical Weapons Convention and a major public housing overhaul sit side-by-side with $1.5 million for dredging in Marina del Rey and a measure to block restrictions on serving peanuts on airplanes….
The bill, which combines eight unfinished appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, provides money for a broad range of government operations, including funding for 10 Cabinet departments and the entire foreign assistance budget. It also dips into the projected $70-billion budget surplus to provide $20 billion for peacekeeping in Bosina, aid to farmers and other activities deemed “emergencies” by Congress.

In appropriating this money, Republicans broke their pledge not to spend the surplus for anything but tax cuts. Democrats broke their promise to reserve it all for Social Security.

The overall bill’s key elements include $1.2 billion for the first installment of Clinton’s initiative to hire 100,000 new teachers, $18 billion the president sought for the International Monetary Fund and the $690 million anti-drug package pushed by Republicans.

Congress and President Bill Clinton had announced a spending deal Thur., Oct. 15, 1998. On Wed., Oct. 21, 1998, the Washington Times reported:

Last minute changes to the legislation were made as late as Monday and copies of the final draft did not appear until noon yesterday. The 16-inch-tall, 40-pound document includes handwritten notes in the margin, e-mail printouts inserted into the bill, and misnumbered or unnumbered pages.

“I’ve killed a forest this week,” said one House appropriations committee aide who made multiple copies of the 4,000-page document and its various incarnations.

“This contains eight appropriations bills, a $9 billion tax bill, a supplemental appropriation and a substantial number of legislative riders,” [Sen.] Byrd said. “What a gargantuan monstrosity.”

On the House floor, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) said the bill was “a victory for the American people. It is a victory over mindless partisanship and it is a terrific victory for education.”

In the House, more Democrats supported the bill than Republicans (85% versus 72% of their caucuses.) Twice as many Republicans voted against the bill than did Democrats–64 to 31.

According to the Los Angeles Times, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) said

“There is no responsible vote except yes.”

Gingrich directed sharp rebukes at the bill’s GOP critics, saying that “perfectionist” conservatives had no realistic alternative to compromise with a liberal Democratic president.

“It is easy to get up and say, ‘Vote no,'” Gingrich said. “Then what would you do? Those of us who have grown up and matured…understand that we have to work together on the big issues.”

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) was one of 9 Democrats in the Senate to vote against the bill. Of the 29 Senators who opposed the bill, 20 were Republicans. Supporting it were 33 Republicans and 32 Democrats.


Policy criticisms by others

In an Oct. 25, 1998 op-ed published in the New York Times, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the substance of the bill:

In the 266 calendar days of the session that officially ended on Wednesday, the 105th Congress passed only four of the 13 appropriations bills that keep the Government functioning. Then, on the 267th day, we debated and passed a 4,000-page, 40-pound, nonamendable budget that gives half a trillion dollars to finance 10 Cabinet-level departments for the fiscal year that started 25 days ago.

This year’s appropriations bill exceeds the Federal budget ceiling by $20 billion for what is euphemistically called emergency spending, much of which is really garden-variety, special-interest, pork-barrel spending — paid for by robbing the budget surplus.

I voted against the bill, as did many of my colleagues of both parties. It is a betrayal of our responsibility to spend the taxpayers’ dollars wisely and to enact laws that reflect the best interests of all Americans, rather than the special interests of a few….

I put together a 52-page list of items in this budget that watchdog groups would identify as questionable spending. Some of the projects may well be worthy. But none went through the appropriate merit-based selection process to determine whether they were more or less a priority than thousands of other projects not in the bill.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said: “This bill squanders the first surplus in 30 years. It is wrong for America.”


Process criticisms by ReadtheBill.org

In the same op-ed, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the process and called for reform:

[N]egotiations were conducted behind closed doors — out of the sight of the people as well as most members of Congress. This year’s budget is eerily reminiscent of what happened in 1988, when President Ronald Reagan returned to Congress three enormous documents weighing 43 pounds and totaling something less than 4,000 pages, and said, “Congress shouldn’t send another one of these.” He was right — we cannot do business this way.

The House rule waived all points of order against the conference report. During floor debate on the rule House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) said:

Mr. Speaker, Ronald Reagan stood in this Chamber nearly a decade ago and attacked the Congress for sending him a massive last-minute appropriation bill. Well, here we go again.
This bill is 4,000 pages long and weighs over 40 pounds. And at that time Ronald Reagan said, Congress should not send another one of these and, if you do, he said, I will not sign it.
Well, here they go again. This bill is a symbol of the wasted time and misguided priorities of a Republican Congress whose leadership consumed our agenda with investigations instead of legislation. Thanks to the Republican leadership, we have worked the fewest days and passed the fewest bills in decades. We did not even pass a budget resolution in this House of Representatives, the first time since the Budget Act passed 24 years ago. Ronald Reagan was right. It was a bad way to do business in 1988, and it is a bad way to do business in 1998.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

Lawmakers from both parties and in both chambers–given little time to review the 4,000-page, 40-pound bill produced in secret talks among a handful of top officials–howled at the way the legislation emerged from the contemporary equivalent of a smoke-filled room.

“Anybody who tells me they have a handle on this bill is like the local weather forecaster: They are either a fool or a newcomer,” said Sen. Conrad R. Burns (R-MT).

In an interview with the Washington Times, then-Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) said:

I dare say no member understands completely what is in this legislation. It is a creation without a mother or father – rather more like a Frankenstein creature – a being patched together from old legislative body parts that don’t quite fit.

On the House floor, Rep. David Obey (D-WI) issued scathing criticism:

We are in this mess because this Congress did not do its job. We are in this mess because the Congress passed only a tiny number of the 13 appropriation bills that we were required to pass by the end of the year. And now we have this god awful mess on the floor, which while it contains a number of, I think, needed victories for us on education and on other items, still represents an incredibly outrageous way to do the country’s business….

…I am going to ask Members to do the only thing we can under these circumstances, because the country does need a budget. I will ask them to vote for the bill when we finally get to it, because thanks to the incredible mismanagement that we have seen in this Congress all year long, we have no other choice. But that does not mean I am proud of the product.
I think this product, at least the process by which we got here, is a national disgrace, and I think the House ought to be ashamed of itself for all of the decisions that led to this ridiculous process. I want to make clear in my criticism that I make no criticism of the majority party on the Committee on Appropriations. They did everything possible to work under these ridiculous circumstances to bring a decent bill to the House. But I have to tell my colleagues, wait until you see the stories that the press will write for weeks and weeks on some of the provisions that are in this bill, and more importantly, some of them that are not, and we will get a clear idea of just how low this Congress has sunk.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) was one of 29 senators to vote against the bill. Before the vote, he spoke eloquently on the process:

Mr. President, the budget agreement reached on Thursday evening was celebrated by both parties in competing press conferences, and there may well be much to commend in the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. The trouble is, how would anyone know?

According to a wire service report on Friday, the bill was `expected to be more than one foot thick.’ In fact, it is closer to two feet thick, and contains some 4,000 pages. Will any Senator or Representative know what’s in that monster bill when it is passed shortly–as is now inevitable?
Of course not. Yet in recent years we are given to feel that even to ask such a question is to reveal an embarrassing naivete….

This year’s legislation is no different; we continue to discover items that mysteriously found their way into–or out of–the text long after the agreement was announced. And so as we reflect on the successes and failures of the 105th Congress now ending, I rise simply to sound a note of caution, if not alarm. Having served here for 22 years now–I looked up at the beginning of this Congress to find myself 9th in seniority among Senate Democrats, and 14th in the Senate overall–I am troubled that of late we are getting ominously careless with our procedures. This growing neglect of our rules is becoming increasingly hurtful to the institution of the United States Congress. Surely it is not how business ought to be conducted in the national legislature of the United States of America.
In an article yesterday headlined `Spending Deal Represents Failure, Not Success,’ the distinguished Vice President and columnist for the Associated Press, Walter Mears, recalls that

A decade ago, President Reagan confronted Congress with the `43 pounds of paper’ it passed in 1987 to finance the government in one catchall bill after failing to enact separate appropriations. Reagan told the Democratic Congress not to pass any more `behemoths’ like that, and said he wouldn’t sign one again.
`The budget process has broken down,’ said Reagan, `It needs a drastic overhaul.’

I do not assert that in some earlier, happier time, every Member of Congress read every word of every bill. That has never been possible. But only quite recently have the negotiations over, and contents of, our mammoth annual budget measures been kept secret from nearly everyone save the two Republican Leaders and the White House Chief of Staff. We are beginning to resemble a kind of bastard parliamentary system. Members loudly debate issues on the floor, but the real decisions are made in a closed room by three or four people. …

The budget process has broken down. This year, for the first time in 24 years, Congress failed to pass a budget resolution. And we have had great difficulty passing reconciliation bills. In fact, the last proper, complete reconciliation bill we were able to enact was the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. Since Thursday night we have been busily congratulating ourselves over completion of the latest budget–as if the simple act of keeping the government open is a unique achievement.

According to an Oct. 22 article in the New York Times, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV)

said on Tuesday that he would hold his nose and vote for it.

“I made such a good speech last night that I convinced myself to vote against it,” Mr. Byrd said today. He called the final package an “elephantine monstrosity,” and added, “There’s no living person who knows everything that’s in this bill.”

On the Senate floor, after the vote, Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO) stated:

Mr. President, We are very fortunate, Will Rogers once observed, that we’ve never gotten all the Government we’ve paid for. For most of this century, Mr. Rogers’ words have stood the test of time. Unfortunately, I fear that with this omnibus appropriations bill, this 3,000-page, 40-pound, 2 foot high, $500 billion monster, we will be getting all the Government we have paid for and then some.

This omnibus legislation reflects the Federal budget process at its worst. This package was not the result of democratic votes, open discussion, and legislators reflecting the will of the people. With little debate and lots of backroom deals, 8 of the 13 annual appropriations bills have been tossed into one enormous heap of spending. This is wrong.

Who has read this pile of programs and pork? Not a single Senator has.
We didn’t get a peek at a summary of this Government colossus until Monday afternoon, just 2 days ago. We won’t see it in the Congressional Record until after the vote.

The truth of the matter is, no one knows what is in this colossal creation, and no one claims to be its father. It is said that victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan. This forsaken monstrosity, which no one claims, nor has anyone read, deserved defeat today.

During floor consideration in the Senate, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) made this statement:

It is my hope that we will not repeat this year’s process. I firmly believe that if the people of America are given the opportunity to understand precisely what is happening, they will demand that we follow regular order in the appropriations process as set forth in the Constitution and the long-established practices of congressional legislative action.


Sources & contacts

Contacts have not necessarily reviewed or approved this article.

John Godfrey, “House passes spending bill despite jeers,” The Washington Times, October 21, 1998; A1

George Hager, “House Passes Spending Bill; Massive Omnibus Measure Larded With Pet Projects,” The Washington Post, October 21, 1998; A01

Janet Hook, “$500-Billion Budget Ok’d Decisively in House Vote,” Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1998; A1

John McCain, “A Budget We Should Be Ashamed Of,” The New York Times, October 25, 1998; 17.

Katharine Q. Seelye, “Spending Bill, Laden With Porkm Is Signed Into Law,” The New York Times, October 22, 1998; A24.

House Appropriations Committee
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