PRESS RELEASE: Monsters from Congress — The scariest things you never read

Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Contact: Rafael DeGennaro 202-544-2620
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Report shows Congress never reads omnibus appropriations bills

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Congress prepares to consider another year-end catch-all spending bill, a new report shows members of Congress never read such bills or know what is in them. Under both Republican and Democratic leadership in recent decades, Congress has passed 1000-page conference reports with only a few hours or even minutes for review.

“These monster spending bills are the scariest things you never read,” said Rafael DeGennaro, a former congressional staff person who directs the organization, which authored the report. “No human reads these thousand-page behemoths before they become the law of the land.”

The report is entitled Monsters from Congress: How Republicans and Democrats allowed 13 inherently unreadable omnibus appropriations bills to devour deliberative democracy. It examined 13 case studies of omnibus appropriations bills passed by Congress during 1982-2004.

For the first time ever, the report tallied the number of hours members had to read each conference report. House members had a combined total of 65 hours before floor debate began to read all 13 conference reports, which contained a total of 12,113 pages. Under House rules, members are supposed to have a minimum of three calendar days to read any one bill before it is brought up on the floor for debate, though this three-day rule is routinely waived.

Senators had a combined total to 196 hours to read all 13 conference reports. For only one out of the 13 bills did the Senate have more than 24 hours of reading time before floor debate began.

Among the report’s findings and recommendations are the following:

MEMBERS ADMIT PROBLEM – The report contains more than 70 quotes from the Congressional Record in which senators and representatives admitted they had not read the bills they were about to pass. This includes quotes from senior members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

HUGE BILLS — In November 2004, starting at midnight on a weekend, the House and Senate each had about about 15 hours to read a 1,645-page omnibus conference report that spent $388 billion and contained numerous riders such as one allowing a committee to see Americans’ tax returns. H.R. 4818 had more pages than any bill except the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

NO TIME TO READ – House members had no time at all to read four of the conference reports in 1982, 1984, 1987 and 2000. For example, in December 1987 the House had no time at all to read a 1,194-page omnibus conference report (H.J.Res. 395) containing all regular appropriations bills for the year.

MINIBUS IS OMNIBUS — The report finds that so-called “minibus” appropriations bills are just as bad—often large and almost never read. One minibus passed by Congress in December 2000 contained two regular appropriations bills. The minibus was a monster—a 1,103-pages conference report that spent $352 billion. House members had a theoretical six minutes to read it, and senators fewer than three hours.

“A mini-monster is still a monster,” said DeGennaro.

HISTORICAL ABERRATION – According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, part of the U.S. Library of Congress, America operated for almost two centuries without omnibus appropriations bills. (The exception that proves the rule was a conscious experiment with one omnibus bill in 1950 that was not repeated.)’s report notes that the first such bill of the modern era passed in December 1982, the same month as the release of Michael Jackson’s hit album Thriller.

PRESIDENTS’ COMPLICITY – The report compares the records of recent presidents. Presidents Ronald Reagan in 1988 and George W. Bush in 2007 warned Congress against passing omnibus appropriations bills. But each signed several, as did President Bill Clinton. In a class by himself, 41st President George H.W. Bush can claim some credit that he was never presented with one.

RECOMMENDATIONS — Calling these monster omnibus spending bills “inherently unreadable,” the report recommends that Congress never pass another one. The report says that merely giving members of Congress, or even the public, 72 hours to read these giant conference reports would not be effective.

“No human can read such a monster bill. No human should ever write one again,” said DeGennaro.

REFORM BY DEMOCRATS — The key is for some rank-and-file members of the majority party to oppose their consideration and passage. In January 1988, 49 House Democrats wrote Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat, saying they would no longer vote for year-end catch-all spending bills. Ten signers in 1988 are currently members of the Senate or House, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). The 1988 letter helped prevent any such bills between 1988 and 1995. Rank-and-file Republicans in Congress initiated no similar reform while in the majority 1995-2006. Foundation is the leading national organization advocating transparent deliberations in Congress. Founded in 2006, the organization is non-partisan and philosophically independent of the two major parties. Founder Rafael DeGennaro, a registered independent, has two decades of experience in Washington, D.C. as congressional staff and co-founder of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The report is available October 30 in PDF format at:
Approximately 13 case studies (1982-2004) will be available online only.