H.R. 4635 – VA-HUD Appropriations Act


Summary

In a rush to complete FY2001 appropriations legislation, Congress passed two ‘minibus’ measures. H.R. 4635 contained both the Veteran’s/Housing/Urban Development and the Energy & Water bill–a previous version of which had been vetoed by President Clinton. The conference report was 307 pages long, and was filed, considered and passed within 24 hours in October 2000. It passed two weeks before a major Presidential election. Debate was perfunctory because most members had little interest in the bill or process.


Overview

    Congress: 106th

    Date: October 2000

    Majority party: Republicans (House & Senate)

    Bill sponsors: Rep. James T. Walsh (R-NY)

    Committees of jurisdiction: House & Senate Committees on Appropriations

    President: Bill Clinton


Timeline

Methodology

House action on conference report
18 hours, 9 minutes to read 307-page conference report

    Wed., 10/18/2000 (6:52 PM)— House and Senate conferees file H. Rept. 106-988, the conference report to accompany H.R. 4635. BEGIN READING
    Thurs., 10/19/2000 (1:01 PM)— House passes H. Res. 638, a rule waiving all points of order against the conference report.
    Thurs., 10/19/2000 (1:01 PM)— Mr. Walsh brings up conference report H. Rept. 106-988 for consideration. END READING
    Thurs., 10/19/2000 (2:15 PM)— House agrees to the conference report by vote of 386 – 24 (Roll no. 536).

Senate action on conference report
Up to 21 hours to read 307-page conference report

    Wed., 10/18/2000 (6:52 PM)— House and Senate conferees file H. Rept. 106-988, the conference report to accompany H.R. 4635. BEGIN READING
    Thurs., 10/19/2000— Senate considers conference report by unanimous consent. END READING
    Thurs., 10/19/2000 (3:55 PM)— Senate agrees to conference report by vote of 85 – 8 (Record vote number 278).

_________________________________________________________________


Background

An October 18, 2000 article in the Washington Post by David Broder entitled “So Long, Surplus” summarized the appropriations being finished by Congress during the 2000 Presidential election year:

To grasp what is happening–those now in office grabbing the goodies before those seeking office have a chance–you have to examine the last-minute rush of bills moving through Congress as it tries to wrap up its work and get out of town….
“The budget process,” [Sen. John] McCain said, “can be summed up simply: no debate, no deliberation and very few votes.”…
Hidden in these unexamined measures are dozens of local-interest projects that cannot stand the light of day.

On October 19, during consideration of the conference report, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) gave an overview of the Senate’s recent behavior:

After this conference report is approved, we will next move to a vote on a continuing resolution. What is a continuing resolution? It is when we have failed here to do our work to extend the operation of Government so it doesn’t shut down.
So we are going to have another continuing resolution approved this afternoon. I am disappointed that we are now to a point where this is the fourth continuing resolution, I believe, that we will approve. This is for 6 days–until next Wednesday. We just completed work on a long continuing resolution. We basically completed very little during that period of time.
The new fiscal year is now nearly 3 weeks old, and Congress has still failed to have signed into law 9 of the 13 appropriations bills.
To compensate for the failure to do our work, we pass these continuing resolutions that I have talked about to stop the Government from shutting down. We have been through a Government shutdown. We know it can happen. We will now consider in a few minutes another continuing resolution. That is too bad….
I have not been in the Congress as long as some people, but I have been here a long time. I can remember when a congressional session was winding down and we worked day and night. We worked Mondays. We worked Fridays, Saturdays, and on occasion we worked Sundays to complete our work. No, not here. We have had leisure time. We have not had any hard lifting. We just took a 5-day break.
I understand the importance of the upcoming elections as well as anyone else. The elections represent a crucial choice regarding the future of this great Republic. However, no election is more important than the election that takes place here in this Congress every day when we, in effect, vote on legislation. This election represents something just as important. That is why we were sent here–to do the work of the people. We are not doing it. The majority isn’t allowing us to do it.
We will never finish these appropriations bills until it is clear to everyone that we must do our work and do it every day of the week. We have been used to 3-day weeks around here where we worked Tuesdays starting about 2:30, and Wednesday and Thursday. But we finished early on Thursday. I have never seen a congressional session such as this. We don’t work on Mondays. We don’t work on Fridays. And now we have a new deal: We are working 2-day weeks. We are now going to a 2-day week schedule. Of course, on the first day we will work late. So it will only be about a day and a half. I don’t think when we have work to do that we should be working 2-day weeks.
I bet the hard-working American people who work for these massive corporations and small businesses would like a 2-day workweek. That is what we are having here.
It is no secret that this exceptionally slow work schedule is responsible for the fact that Congress has completed only a few appropriations bills. We passed one in July, one in August, none in September, and two so far this month. I think we should pick up the pace a little. I think the American people would agree.


Policy criticisms by others


Process criticisms by ReadtheBill.org

During Senate consideration of the bill , Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) admitted the procedure was rushed:

Mr. President, for the information of all Members, let me point out that at the request of the leadership on both sides of the aisle, we are moving forward and hope to have a vote, certainly no later than 3:30 this afternoon, because we do need to get this measure passed, as well as several others. … Certainly it is not a perfect situation. It is not the way I would like to do the bill. I would prefer to proceed with passage of the VA-HUD appropriations bill in a more customary manner.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) said:

The House and the Senate are slowly closing the curtain on the 106th Congress. As the curtain draws to a close, we are in the midst of an orgy of spending and tax cuts, an orgy which threatens the fiscal discipline that many Members of this Congress and the administration have worked so hard to achieve. Worse than the decisions that are being made, however, is the process that is being used to make those decisions.
Long gone is the normal legislative process where we had hearings on ideas in the committees with jurisdiction. We developed legislation on a bipartisan basis with amendments being offered and votes taken; Presidential consideration of individual bills; and, should the President exercise his or her veto power, further debate and congressional action to potentially override the veto; finally, the give and take of negotiation that results in bills which will secure a Presidential signature.
In the place of this normal legislative process, we now have a process–if it deserves that word–where a handful of individuals make far-reaching decisions on legislation. Those decisions are then rushed to the House and Senate floors for final votes, often without the actual language of the measure being considered available to the Members of the House and the Senate.
Lest we be overly critical of October 2000, I say sadly that, with some tactical variations, we were in exactly the same position in the fall of 1999….Mr. President, what we are now doing in the fall of 2000 is characterized by some representative examples of our excess. The Transportation appropriations conference report was not available for Members to review the night before the final vote, but at least there had been some debate on the Senate floor on the Transportation appropriations bill when it originally passed the Senate.
In the remaining days, we are going to be asked to approve measures for which there has never been Senate debate. As an example, we are going to be asked to make some significant paybacks to the providers of services through the Medicare program. This add-back legislation was never considered in the Senate Finance Committee, nor has it been considered on the Senate floor, but mark my word, we will soon be asked to vote on this substantial legislation.
The Commerce-State-Justice appropriations bill will also likely come to this body attached to an unrelated conference report without ever having been separately considered by the Senate.
I suggest we all need to grab hold of our aspirin bottles because we are likely to need plenty of those pills when we find out what is in these measures, a disclosure that is likely to occur several weeks after we have adjourned….
Mr. President, it is hard to determine why we have fallen into this legislative abyss. It appears there is a strong desire to avoid the traditional legislative process in order to protect against having to take any votes at all, particularly any votes on controversial issues. In order to achieve that desire to avoid public commitment as to how we stand on various issues, we have abandoned all semblance of fiscal responsibility….We are about to be asked to do that without any debate, without any opportunity to amend or give the thoughtful consideration for which this institution is supposedly empowered….
I am concerned that we are operating without a blueprint. Congress is flying blind, and our plane has no global positioning system. In fact, we do not even have a hand compass to give us general direction as to where we should be going….
Americans should care because by sleepwalking through the surplus, we are denying ourselves the chance to face these major national challenges….I urge my colleagues in Congress, as well as those in the White House, to stop acting as the proverbial children in the candy store and start acting as statesmen and stateswomen. At the very least, let us follow the admonition given to all healers, which is: First, do no harm.