What Is An Omnibus?

An omnibus in London/ Photo by Gene Hunt. 

A $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill was unveiled last night in Congress to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year. The bill will be voted on by the end of the week.

But what is an “omnibus”?

In a normal year, Congress passes and the president signs into law 12 separate appropriations bills. These 12 bills together provide funding for the federal government. The goal is to pass all 12 bills by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. However, these are not normal times; Congress has failed to pass these 12 bills in nine of the past 10 years. When Congress fails to pass these appropriations bills by October 1, funding for the federal government is usually handled by passing a continuing resolution, which provides funding at the same level as the previous fiscal year. These stopgap funding measures keep the government’s doors open while Congress works to pass a new budget.

An omnibus spending bill packages together all 12 of the appropriations bills that are supposed to be passed individually into one large spending bill, worth billions or even trillions of dollars. In addition to these 12 appropriations bills, omnibus spending bills often contain many unrelated pieces of legislation.

As a result, omnibus bills are typically hundreds or even thousands of pages long. Indeed, the version that has taken shape this week is 1,582 pages. Because of their size, omnibus bills usually only receive a cursory look by the committees charged with reviewing them. And despite a lack of understanding of what is in an omnibus, they are not usually subject to much debate and will pass through Congress quickly.

See our updated post about the fiscal year 2015 "CRomnibus"

What's included in the fiscal 2014 omnibus spending bill:

  • Discretionary spending in fiscal 2014 would be set at $1.1 trillion.
  • The Department of Agriculture would be funded at $20.9 billion, $350 million over the fiscal 2013 enacted level. The bill provides $6.7 billion for WIC. That’s $153 million below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education would be funded at $156.8 billion. That’s an additional $200 million over the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. Head Start would receive $8.6 billion, an increase of $612 million over the fiscal 2013 enacted level.
  • The Department of Defense would receive $486.9 billion, virtually the same as fiscal year 2013 enacted levels. The bill provides $85.2 billion for ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, a reduction of $2 billion from the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.

For more on this, check out Who Won and Lost in the 2014 Budget.