H.R. 4577 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2001

Summary

In a rush to complete FY2001 appropriations legislation, Congress passed two ‘minibus’ measures at the end of 2000. H.R. 4577 contained three regular bills. The conference report was 1,103 pages long, and was filed, considered and passed within three hours on December 15–the day Congress adjourned for the year (sine die.) The House took just six minutes to review the conference report before consideration began. The Senate passed it by unanimous consent before adjourning at 8:03 p.m.

Overview

    Congress: 106th

    Date: December 2000

    Majority party: Republicans (House & Senate)

    Bill sponsors: Rep. John Edward Porter (R-IL)

    Committees of jurisdiction: House Committee on Appropriations

    President: Bill Clinton

Timeline
Methodology

House action on conference report
6 minutes to read 1,103-page conference report

    Fri., 12/15/2000 (4:48 PM) — House and Senate conferees file H. Rept. 106-1033, the conference report to accompany H.R. 4577. BEGIN READING
    Fri., 12/15/2000 (4:54 PM) — Rep. Bill Young(R-FL) brings up conference report by previously agreed to special order. END READING.
    Fri., 12/15/2000 (6:38 PM) — House agrees to the conference report by vote of 292 – 60 (Roll no. 603).

Senate action on conference report
Up to 3 hours to read 1,103-page conference report

    Fri., 12/15/2000 (4:48 PM) — House and Senate conferees file H. Rept. 106-1033, the conference report to accompany H.R. 4577.
    Fri., 12/15/2000 — Senate agrees to conference report by unanimous consent.
    Fri., 12/15/2000 (8:03 PM)— Senate adjourns for the year.

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Background

During the Senate’s consideration of the bill on December 15, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) summarized:

Mr. President, the fiscal year 2001 Labor/HHS Appropriations Conference Report is now before the Senate. This conference report serves to wrap up work on all fiscal year 2001 appropriations bills, as it includes the Treasury-General Government and legislative branch bills. Those two bills were previously passed by the Congress, but were vetoed by the President. The only significant change to the bills previously passed by Congress is the deletion of the telephone tax provision in the Treasury bill. The conference report includes other appropriations matters, which emerged subsequent to the completion of the other fiscal year 2001 bills….
There are many specific issues that I could comment on today, but I had the opportunity to brief members of this side of the aisle at a conference this afternoon, and the bill is available in the Cloakroom for review. I urge all my colleagues to support this conference report, which completes the work of this Congress, during this Congress.

Policy criticisms by others

Process criticisms by ReadtheBill.org
During floor debate in the House on December 15, Rep. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) said:

Mr. Speaker, reserving the right to object, I am concerned about what we are doing here today. We are being asked to vote on a huge package of bills that we have not seen, we have not read, and we certainly do not know what is in them. We are being asked to agree to dispense with the regular order of the House and simply vote “yes” on a combination of bills, despite the fact that we do not know for sure what bills they are, we do not know how they may or may not have been changed if we did know them, and we do not know what private dealings were struck and may have been inserted into those bills as recently as this afternoon.
Now, many of us support some of the elements that we think are in this package, such as the Medicare add-backs, which our hospitals badly need and which I support; but we do not support other elements of this package. Nevertheless, we are going to be forced to vote on the whole package up or down.
I know this certainly is not the first time we have been asked to vote on a package of bills that we have not seen, but that does not make it right. And I know we all want to go home. We all want to be with our families for the holidays. I certainly also want to do that. But do we not have a responsibility to our constituents to at least know what we are voting on when we vote on the largest nondefense appropriation bill in the Federal Government?
We are going to vote on one element of this package which alone is $109 billion of taxpayer money. I think it is disturbing that we are going to vote on that without knowing the details. But what is almost as disturbing as what we do not know is the things that we do know, or at least I think we know, about what is in this package….
The bill apparently is going to create untold new programs, and I do not know how many earmarks. It is $7 billion higher than what the House approved; it is $4 billion more than what the Senate approved; it is even $3 billion higher than the President’s request. And of course, we are not sure exactly how all that money has been spent.
Now, despite all of these big spending increases, some are probably going to come to this floor and say this is a cut of $3.6 billion from previously agreed-upon levels. Let me remind my colleagues that the so-called agreement was to an arbitrary number by a handful of Members under the duress of a threatened veto which never was agreed to by either Chamber.
If I went ahead and objected, Mr. Speaker, I am afraid that would not accomplish much. I know a rule could be brought up, it would be debated, it would be passed, and we would only be delaying the inevitable. But I will urge my colleagues to vote against final passage on this bill. Vote against the huge spending increase that is in this bill; vote against joining all these unrelated bills in one package; vote against a package the contents of which are a mystery to most of us.

Rep. David Obey (D-WI) said:

This bill has been a poster child on how not to run a legislative body. And, in fact, in this process, a Member of the majority side of the aisle earlier correctly noted that there are dozens of items in this bill that have nothing whatsoever to do with the appropriations bill. In fact, there are well over a hundred different authorizations that are being added to this bill by reference. We did not negotiate those items. We are not responsible for them. All we can try to do with our limited staff is to try to make certain that they were not supremely objectionable to this or that faction in the House. And I have to say that this is a spectacular example of how not to run a railroad.
This year has been especially frustrating to those of us who would like to see some of the most critical functions of Government funded on a bipartisan consensus. And the fact is that for 9 months of this year the deliberations of this committee were wasted on phoney budget resolutions that held funding for education, held research, worker protection and other critical programs in this bill at virtually last year’s funding level with no adjustment for inflation, with no recognition of the new challenges facing this country and yet the majority passed the bill….
I would also note that there were over 400 authorizations which one party or another attempted to add to this bill. We rejected almost 300 of them. And of those that are in the bill, you will have to talk to the authorizing committees to get a balanced evaluation, because they largely negotiated them. I have just one additional statement to make. I love this institution. I respect every Member in it. I love what it can do when it is at its best in doing things that are needed to help the people we represent, but I honestly do believe that the way this bill was produced is a model of how not to proceed in the future.

Rep. John Porter (R-IL), who supported the bill, nevertheless echoed Rep. Toomey’s earlier criticisms:

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry that the gentleman from Pennsylvania, who earlier had reserved the right to object and then criticized the bill, might have stayed on the floor because I am directing this portion of my remarks to him. In early 1988, Ronald Reagan came to the floor of this House to give his State of the Union address and slammed down on the Clerk’s desk a bill that was probably twice the size of the one that is sitting there right now. It was an omnibus bill that had been passed about this time of year in 1987. President Reagan said, “Never again.” In his remarks to the Congress at that time, he lifted words out of a letter that I had written with 147 Members of the House of Representatives saying that this is not the way we ought to do the House’s business.
Very frankly, the gentleman from Pennsylvania is correct. Omnibus bills are never a proper way to legislate.

Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) said:

Mr. Speaker, while I have some serious reservations about this conference report, I will vote for it.
One of my concerns relates to the way this bill has been brought to the floor of the House.
We all expect that this will be the last real appropriations bill–as opposed to a continuing resolution–of the year, and that when it is enacted funding will be available to keep all federal agencies running.
This is the good news about the parliamentary situation in which we find ourselves.
The bad news is that we must vote yes or no, up or down, on an omnibus bill that few if any of us have had much time to review and that includes many substantive provisions that have little or nothing to do with appropriations and that may well be contrary to good public policy in several areas, including protection of the environment.
This is not the way the Congress should do its business.

During Senate consideration, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) said:

Mr. President, as has been the case on far too many occasions in the past number of years, the Senate finds itself today in the position of having to deal with a massive omnibus appropriations bill….
Instead of following the established practices and the regular order of enacting the thirteen annual appropriations bills, we have in recent years, chosen to delay appropriations bills until it is too late to do anything other than to package them in a manner that causes such packages to be used as vehicles for all manner of non-appropriations issues. This has necessitated the adoption of late-year omnibus appropriations packages well after the start of the fiscal year, such as the one before the Senate today. This is a practice that should never have been started and which, if not discontinued, I fear will gravely diminish the Senate as an institution. Senators are being denied the right to debate and amend appropriations bills, all of which contain billions of taxpayer dollars, and literally thousands of funding issues affecting their constituents. Instead, we are being presented with unamendable omnibus appropriations packages, which contain many, many matters that have not had any Senate consideration at all.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) said:

Mr. President, I am extremely concerned about the process that has brought about this omnibus bill’s passage. It is unfortunate that the Senate finds itself in virtually the same position as it did the last two years with appropriations matters. As my colleagues will recall, in 1998 we voted on a giant omnibus appropriations bill which contained eight appropriations bills, plus numerous other authorizing legislation. It ran on for nearly 4,000 pages and was called a “gargantuan monstrosity” by the distinguished Senator from West Virginia, Senator BYRD.
Unfortunately, we did not learn our lesson in 1998. Last year Congress wrapped Medicare provider payments into appropriations for Commerce-State-Justice, Foreign Operations Appropriations, Interior and Labor-HHS, again passing it in omnibus fashion without time for senators to read through the bill and raise concerns about its contents.
I voted against the 1998 and 1999 omnibus bills, not because they did not contain good provisions for the country and my State of Montana. They did. I opposed these bills because I believed–as I do now–that writing such legislation behind closed doors among a small group of people dangerously disenfranchises most senators, House members, and the American people.
And here we are again, passing Labor-HHS along with Treasury-Postal and Legislative Appropriations–all in one bill, with the input of very few members of Congress. Despite statements in 1998 and 1999 that such a process would not happen again, we find ourselves in the same position as the last two years. Mr. President, we already face a population that is increasingly cynical of government and those who serve it, and the wrangling over the presidential election that just ended has not helped matters. People believe more and more that government does not look after their interests, but only after special interests. And the more we operate behind closed doors, without an open, public process, the more we feed that cynicism. That is not healthy for our democracy or our people, and it’s why I cannot support this omnibus bill.