H.R. 4818 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005

At 1,645 pages, the conference report on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 (H.R. 4818) has more pages than any other bill ever to pass Congress. It was filed and passed on the Saturday before the Thanksgiving Weekend during a lame-duck congressional session after the 2004 elections. Filed 15 minutes after midnight, it passed the House less than 15 hours later and the Senate later the same day. Realistically, few members had access to the conference report when it was filed. But the omnibus bill was so large that it was impossible for members to read the 1,645-page conference report before debate began. During floor debate, members of Congress called the bill “mammoth,” a “monstrosity,” and a “poster child for institutional failure.” In the raw form it was presented to members of Congress at the time, it was more than 3,000 pages and stood 14 3/4″ tall. One member said it might be an “OSHA violation” to lift it. The bill contained nine regular spending bills, funding 13 government agencies with a total of $388 billion, plus numerous unrelated riders changing federal law. Many sections of the bill had never been debated, discussed or read by even the most powerful members of Congress. Many committee staff worked on the bill for two or three days without sleep. Perhaps that is why the bill contained the infamous Section 222 (aka “Istook amendment”) rider to give the Committee members and staff access to the tax return of any American. The bill also contained the wild horse rider.

Highlighted provisions in bill: Section 222 (aka “Istook amendment”) rider; wild horse rider


    Congress: 108th

    Date: November 2004

    Majority party: Republicans (House & Senate)

    Bill sponsor: Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ)

    Committees of jurisdiction: House Committee on Appropriations

    President: George W. Bush


House action on conference report
14 hours, 13 minutes to read 1,645-page conference report.

    Sat. 11/20/2004 (12:18 AM) – House and Senate conferees file H.Rept. 108-792, the conference report to accompany H.R. 4818. BEGIN READING

    Sat. 11/20/2004 (2:17 PM) – House approves H.Res. 866, a rule which waives all points of order against the bill, including the three-day layover requirement, by a vote of 233-158.

    Sat. 11/20/2004 (2:31 PM) – Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) brings conference report up on the floor for consideration. END READING

    Sat. 11/20/2004 (4:08 PM) – House approves the conference report by a vote of 344-51.

Senate action on conference report
Up to 20 hours to read 1,645-page conference report.

    Sat. 11/20/2004 (12:18 AM) – House and Senate conferees file H.Rept. 108-792, the conference report to accompany H.R. 4818. BEGIN READING

    Sat. 11/20/2004 – Senate begins consideration of the conference report.

    Sat. 11/20/2004 (8:42 PM) – Senate approves the conference report by a vote of 65-30.

Additional actions

    Mon. 12/6/2004 – Cleared for White House.
    Tue. 12/7/2004 — Presented to President.
    Wed. 12/8/2004 – President Bush signs the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 into law.

This conference report passed in a lame-duck session held after the 2004 elections. During consideration on the Senate floor, Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) offered explanation for the speed of its passage:

The reason we feel it is important to finish tonight is the Jewish holiday is tomorrow. A lot of people have travel plans over the course of the day; thus, it is critical we finish.
Next week, we will be going directly to the intelligence reform issue. We need to be focusing on the safety and security of the American people. That does mean an appropriate response to the 9/11 Commission recommendations. Thus, with so few days left before October 8, it is absolutely critical we complete this bill tonight or very early in the morning. Our intention is to complete it tonight.

Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) managed the rule that made consideration of H.R. 4818 possible. During floor debate on the rule, he noted how good it was that Congress was working on Saturday:

Mr. Speaker, it is a beautiful Saturday morning all across America and people are waking up and taking their morning coffee, reading the paper, getting the kids off to soccer practice, and slipping into the woods to do a little hunting.
As I say, on this glorious Saturday morning, people are going about their lives and doing the things that they do, enjoying time with their family and their business, and they are undoubtedly thinking to themselves, as they find out that Congress is in session on a Saturday, that it is about time those guys did some work.
It is an important issue indeed that finds us here doing the people’s business this weekend as we wrap up a very productive 108th Congress. The omnibus package that is here before us today, this rule, H. Res. 866, provides for consideration of H.R. 4818 , making appropriations for foreign operations, export financing, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2005.

Policy criticisms by others
Among the controversial issues in H.R. 4818 were discrepancies over funding for the World Bank, the United Nations, environmental protection programs, peacekeeping in Darfur and military versus economic foreign aid.

On the Senate floor, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took issue with the inclusion of policy amendments in an appropriations bill:

[O]f the total appropriated in this bill, $64.1 million can be identified as unrequested or unauthorized spending. Let me be clear. Many of the earmarks in this legislation may be worthy projects in and themselves, but they have not gone through the proper legislative process which should be followed if they are to receive U.S. taxpayer funding. In addition, while I may agree with many of the policy positions included in the bill, they should instead be included in authorizing legislation. Policy changes simply do not belong in appropriations legislation, and such inclusions usurp the jurisdiction of the authorizors.
I note with regret that, once again, the Senate has failed to pass an authorization bill prior to considering this legislation.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) voiced concern over the bill’s treatment of funding to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa:

I can tell my colleagues that the international community is quite disappointed, to put it mildly, about the United States’ failure to deliver on promised funding to date…
It is tragic that this administration’s unilateralist and ideological tendencies have now spread, unfortunately, to the fight on HIV and AIDS. It is morally wrong to allow right-wing ideology to trump science when it comes to the administration’s HIV/AIDS prevention policies. Their policies set aside 33 percent of all funding for abstinence only. That denies access to lifesaving technology, including condoms. Simply put, this is irresponsible, unethical, and inhumane. Emphasis should be science based, not ideological.
It is unethical, I believe, that the antiretroviral treatment policies are focused more on protecting patents and big pharmaceutical companies than on the urgent need to get fixed-dose combination into the hands of those who need them. Emphasis really should be put on saving lives.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) was one of many who took issue with an amendment drafted by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) reworking healthcare funding laws on abortion. Jackson-Lee described it as an “onerous, dangerous provision that is a backdoor attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) took issue with the bill’s effects on the environment:

Mr. Speaker, protecting and preserving our environment is one of the most important jobs I have, but I don’t think we as a Congress are doing very well at it.
The conference report before us today … contains provisions that will weaken several significant land and water protections…
[…] Congress has missed another opportunity to craft policy that is both fiscally and environmentally responsible.

Process criticisms by ReadtheBill.org

House and Senate negotiators filed the conference report at 12:18 AM on Sat, Nov. 20, 2004. This was the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday.

On Saturday afternoon, the House approved the rule H.Res. 866 by a vote of 233-158. H.Res. 866 waived all points of order against H.R. 4818, including the three-day layover requirement. Then, less than 15 hours after it was filed, the House began consideration of the conference report at 2:31 PM. Realistically, few members had access to the conference report when it was filed. But the omnimbus bill was so large that it was impossible for members to read the 1,645-page conference report before debate began. The House approved it by a vote of 344-51, with Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) voting “present.” The Senate approved the conference report the same day a vote of 65-30.

On the House floor, several members voiced displeasure with the speed of the bill’s passage. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) stated:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my displeasure with the current state of the appropriations bills… . I regret that we are using an omnibus bill to finish the appropriations process for FY 2005. It is not a good procedure, under any circumstances, when we are required to vote on a bill with insufficient time for review, especially a bill as important as appropriations for most of government funding other than Defense and Homeland Security.

The most revealing moment during floor debate was when Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) challenged his colleagues to say they understood the bill. In response, Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) mocked Baird by implying that members would not have read the bill, even if it were much shorter. Putnam is a member of the House Rules Committee which proposed waiving all points of order against the conference report:

Mr. BAIRD. Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the distinguished gentleman from Texas and his entire staff for their tireless and diligent efforts on behalf of this body and this Nation. They have done an outstanding job.
Mr. Speaker, here is the bill. I hesitate to lift it. I think it is an OSHA violation. This is it. It became available to us at 12:15 last night. It is less than 12 hours later, and we are going to be voting on this in a very short time. Something is wrong with our democracy.
In 1993, the Republican House minority made these statements: A bill that cannot survive a 3-day scrutiny of its provisions is a bill that should not be enacted. Proper consideration must be given to important legislation even in the closing days of a session. The world’s most powerful legislature cannot in good conscience deprive its memberships of a brief study of a committee report prior to final action.
You have done that. You said it must not be done, and you do it repeatedly.
I have about 30 seconds left. Let me yield that time to any Member on this floor who can in good conscience honestly answer two questions: Have they read this document well enough to have confidence they know what is in it, and can they tell the American people why we must act today instead of waiting 3 days?

Mr. PUTNAM. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
The gentleman has presented two rhetorical questions, and I will respond to one. It is a pleasure to be here with the distinguished gentleman from Washington, a man who represents a very technologically savvy constituency and a very environmentally concerned constituency. And that tremendous pile of paper was available on the Web last night at 12:15 that would have taken advantage of the skills that are out there as well as saving a few trees.
This is an important work. And I might also ask how long it took for the gentleman to read cover to cover all of the nine bills that had already passed this House in due time?
Ms. DeGETTE.…A lot of mischief can come from a bill that is a $388.4 billion bill, 14.75 inches thick, I measured it, which was filed sometime after midnight. I will guarantee my colleagues not one Member, including the gentleman from Florida, read this bill, even on the Internet.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said:

This clearly is not how our appropriations process should work, with this House rolling nine separate appropriation bills into one and giving the Members just a few hours to review it. My chairman said 14 hours. The distinguished ranking member of the Committee on Agriculture is reviewing the bill right now. It is, I judge, at least two feet tall, right in front of her. I do not know whether the camera panned to that, but it is an extraordinary document.

Rep. David Obey (D-WI) said:

[T]his bill is a poster child for institutional failure.

Rep. Major Owens (D-NY) said during floor debate:

[T]he Republican majority has allowed us only a handful of hours to examine the content of this mammoth bill, which numbers in the thousands of pages, before holding a vote on final passage. This rushed vote on the omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2005 represents more than a serious disservice to the American people. It signifies a disgraceful denigration of our role as elected representatives and a serious blow to our democratic form of government.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) said:

[A]s the gentleman from Washington (Mr. BAIRD) pointed out, we were not given a chance to read this bill. Why are we not given 3 days to read it and then we can vote on it? Why? Because we want all of Thanksgiving week off; not just 2 days, the whole week. Hey, we are going to get 2 months off because we do not want to do our work. We do not want to read that boring bill. We are going to go home without reading it, but we want to rubber stamp it first.


Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-WI) said:

Mr. President, I rise today to oppose the Omnibus appropriations bill. I think the American people would be appalled by the process under which the Senate is considering this bill. Provisions have been added that have never been debated, never had a hearing, and never had a vote in the Senate. It is thousands of pages long, and yet the Senate has had only a few hours to read the bill. We are just beginning to learn about all of the provisions that have been added.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) said:

[T]his omnibus bill was largely written under a shroud of secrecy–a shroud so thick that it became apparent this afternoon that not even the Senate leadership or Senate Appropriations Committee chairman knew fully what was contained in this legislation.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) said:

Mr. President, we are now in day 51 of the fiscal year. In order to finally bring the fiscal year 2005 appropriations season to a close, the Senate has before it a $388 billion, nine bill, 3,016-page monstrosity of a bill. Here it is, right here on the desk. Take a look at it.
Of the nine appropriations bills in the bill, only two were ever debated in the Senate. The conference report includes a miscellaneous division that contains 32 unrelated provisions, most of which have never been considered by the Senate.
There is not a single Member in this body who can say that he or she has read this bill. It contains complex and controversial matters. It contains an across-the-board cut of eight-tenths of 1 percent that arbitrarily reduces veterans medical care programs, health care programs, highway construction, and global AIDS programs. […]
Yet here we are on a Saturday, 51 days into the fiscal year, forced to vote on this monstrosity in the form of a $388 billion unamendable, unread conference report.
The bill is entitled “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005.” It should be entitled “Lame Appropriations Act,2005.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said:

The bill before us is written in a process that is the legislative equivalent of painting a room in the dark. You don’t know exactly how the room will look until you turn on the lights, but you can be sure that it will be a mess. And, of course, that is what has happened. This bill is a mess.