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Packaging all or a number of appropriation bills together creates what are called omnibus or minibus measures. These bills appropriate money to operate the federal government and make national policy in scores of areas. These omnibus bills grant large powers to a small number of people who put these packages together - party and committee leaders and top executive officials. Omnibus measures usually arouse the irk of the rank-and-file members of Congress because typically little time is available in the final days of a session to debate these massive measures or to know what is in them. Absent enactment of annual appropriation bills or a CR, federal agencies must shut down, furloughing their employees. Moreover, "uncertainty about final appropriations leads many [federal] managers to hoard funds; in some cases, hiring and purchasing stops.[4]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnibus_spending_bill

How transparent is the process of packaging spending bills into an omnibus bill? There's an article on this; however, nothing is indicated on how transparent the process of creating an omnibus bill to be passed to Congress to be voted up or down, making me think that the process is not transparent and as indicated above gives a lot of power to some people within the government of the United States? Is there any system put in place to make the whole process more transparent?

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  • Why would omnibus bills be any less transparent than any other bills? They'll be large, so it might be difficult for anyone to read the whole thing. But the bipartisan infrastructure bill was 2700 pages, which is daunting.
    – Barmar
    Aug 15 '21 at 0:51
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    It's easy to "hide" things in any large bill. Trump's tax reform had lots of new loopholes for the rich.
    – Barmar
    Aug 15 '21 at 0:53
  • @Barmar well yes, given rich people can afford a team of accountants and lawyers to go through a 1000+ page bill in order to save on taxes. Not really surprising IMO
    – Ray
    Aug 17 '21 at 0:02
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If by transparent you mean voted upon by a large number of members with a detailed knowledge of the comprehensive content of the bill relative to prior versions of it, and involving a large number of members in substantive negotiation, the answer is that the process is not very transparent.

This said, appropriations bills are initially crafted in committees (and appropriations subcommittees) that share lots of information and allow participation by a large number of interests members, and that provides ample opportunity for participation in their drafting. The appropriation committee drafted bills are the starting point for any omnibus bill, and the appropriations bills, in turn, are drafted within the framework of a previously adopted budget bill.

So, while the negotiations over the details that get tweaked to pass an omnibus bill are conducted in "back rooms" with little outside input, the larger thrust of the bills were the subject of a more open budget bill and appropriations committee process. The final negotiations are comparable to those in reconciling House and Senate versions of a bill in a conference committee. The negotiators identify what the political obstacles to getting a passing vote on the bill are, and find ways to make the holdouts happy is quietly as possible so as to void upsetting people who were involved in crafting the initial drafts.

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  • So is it transparent or not? I am not quite sure after reading.
    – r13
    Aug 16 '21 at 22:48
  • @r13 Reality is complicated. In some ways it is when viewed at a bigger picture level, and in some ways it isn't, looking at the issue from a more up close perspective.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 16 '21 at 22:58
  • I believe "packing" is a strategy to get things passed. I am not interested in looking the historical events, but the initial intention in developing such a strategy. Was it based on efficiency in delivering a large bill instead of many smaller bills or as asked - to hide something under the large bill with a slim chance to be blocked due to the dark consequences.
    – r13
    Aug 16 '21 at 23:17
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    @r13 While there can be ulterior motives, I think the basic goal is efficiency. Except for the most trivial bills, negotiating, debating and voting on bills is a complex process. So a few large bills is better than lots of small bills.
    – Barmar
    Aug 17 '21 at 0:09
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    @r13 Usually the omnibus bill is used when there is a time crunch because the government has either fully or partially shut down for lack of appropriations bills, or is on the brink of doing so, and there isn't time to fully debate each separate appropriations bill on the merit. Slipping provisions into a must pass bill is a bonus.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 17 '21 at 16:01

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