An omnibus bill refers to a law that is still in the proposal stage but it includes unrelated subjects. Anything can be included in an omnibus bill. The bill itself is a single legislation document that can be passed in one voting session. An omnibus bill usually includes a main subject (for example, budget) but it may still address other unrelated issues (like healthcare).
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For example, a bill that is primarily meant to amend budgetary allocations might still introduce amendments or new laws on unrelated issues. The unrelated issues are often referred to as “pork”. In the United States, omnibus bills are mostly used by the National Congress. Omnibus bills have been used when passing legislations in the United States for a number of decades.
The first widespread use of omnibus bills was during the 1970s. During this period, the United States changed the manner in which budget legislation was undertaken. The Congress decided to include all the aspects of a federal budget in a single bill. This bill accounted for the legislation requirements of different departments and their budgetary allocations.
The motive behind instituting omnibus bills is that they act as a timesaving mechanism for law making bodies. An omnibus bill takes less time to debate on, vote on, and pass. If these bills were to be tabled and discussed independently, it would take much more time to pass them.
Although omnibus bills save the Congress a lot of time and resources, they also have their disadvantages. Most omnibus bills are enormous and they may include many pieces of legislation. For example, Canada once passed a 126-page omnibus bill that consisted of 120 amendments (Krutz 216).
The enormity of such bills makes it possible for legislators to “burry” items in an omnibus bill. Citizens are usually unable to identify the buried items until it is too late and the bill has been passed. Once it becomes apparent that a bill consists of “hidden” items, there can be efforts to amend the finer details of the bill adding more workload to legislators and bill writers.
In the last ten years, there have been calls to substitute omnibus bills with clean bills. Clean bills do not include unrelated issues in one piece of legislation. However, even clean bills can still include unnecessary appropriations. This happened in 2009 when the spending bill was signed into law. Some parties argued that this bill contained an extra eight billion dollars in additional appropriations. There were also calls for President Obama to veto this bill on the account of these additional appropriations.
There are various instances in the recent past when omnibus bills have been used in the United States. One of the more popular bills of this nature is the $700 billion bank-bailout bill passed in 2008. This bill contained very unusual elements. For example, one amendment concerned the “Mental Health Parity Act” (Krutz 214). This amendment required insurance companies to harmonize medical and mental health insurance services. Attaching this insurance law to a bailout bill is one of the confusions that arise from omnibus bills.
Omnibus bills work on the principle of joining different legislations with the aim of simplifying the law making process. However, omnibus bills are susceptible to abuse and their use is usually accompanied by various controversies. The basic architecture of an omnibus law is similar to the operations of a public service bus. Therefore, an omnibus bill is like a “busload of laws” in a single bill.
Krutz, Glen. “Tactical Maneuvering on Omnibus Bills in Congress”. American Journal of Political Science 23.1 (2009): 210-223. Print.