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Omnibus Legislating in the U.S. Congress

Part of the Legisprudence Library book series (LEGIS,volume 8)


Scholars regard the proliferation of omnibus legislative packages as an important institutional change with various implications for democratic governance. After first considering the reasons why omnibus packages are employed in the U.S. Congress and the best way to measure omnibus legislating, this paper examines the aggregate trends in omnibus usage from 1948–2018 and the effect of omnibus usage on presidential-congressional relations. The trend data show an explosion of omnibus use in the U.S. national legislature from 1979–1996, followed by a contraction in omnibus use since that time. However, large bill usage continues and is especially robust around the annual budget reconciliation bill in Congress and there is a persistent incentive to use the technique to package many of the 12–14 U.S. appropriations bills together in larger measures. Unlike the apparent trend in other democratic systems, wherein the executive benefits disproportionately from omnibus usage to the detriment of the legislature, omnibus bills by and large benefit Congress more than the president. Within Congress, majority party members benefit more from their use than do minority party members. The discussion section explores the good and bad of the omnibus technique for American governance.


  • Omnibus legislation
  • Presidential-congressional relations
  • Party leaders
  • Divided government

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  1. 1.

    Browne (1995), p. 45; Krutz (2001), p. 3; Mayhew (1991), p. 43; Oleszek (1996), p. 276; Sinclair (1997), p. 64.

  2. 2.

    Hager (1998), A1.

  3. 3.

    Tate (1982), p. 2383.

  4. 4.

    Oleszek (1989), p. 285.

  5. 5.

    This slight decline and leveling-off in raw numbers is somewhat misleading. Omnibus bills are indeed even larger after the mid-1980s than before.

  6. 6.

    Seriously considered measures are legislative initiatives (most of which are bills) receiving coverage in Congressional Quarterly Almanac.

  7. 7.

    Smith (1989), p. 56.

  8. 8.

    Sinclair (1992), p. 668.

  9. 9.

    Oleszek (1989), Sinclair (1997), and Smith (1989).

  10. 10.

    Krehbiel (1991), ch. 1.

  11. 11.

    Brady and Volden (1998), ch. 1.

  12. 12.

    Sarasohn (1982), p. 2382.

  13. 13.

    Congressional Quarterly (1982 [1980–1988]), p. 142.

  14. 14.

    Congressional Quarterly (1987 [1980–1988]).

  15. 15.

    Smith (1989) and Sinclair (1997).

  16. 16.

    Mayhew (1974), ch. 1.

  17. 17.

    Krutz (2005), p. 316.

  18. 18.

    Larocca (1995).

  19. 19.

    Sinclair (1997), p. 64.

  20. 20.

    Bach and Smith (1988), ch. 1.

  21. 21.

    Edwards et al. (1997), pp. 545–563; Sinclair (1997), p. 8; Taylor (1998), pp. 373–398.

  22. 22.

    As part of their Policy Agendas Project, Baumgartner and Jones coded information on every story in annual editions of CQ Almanac from 1948–1994 (Baumgartner et al. 1997). These data are available at:

  23. 23.

    Sinclair (1997), p. 8.

  24. 24.

    Baumgartner et al. (1998), p. 3.

  25. 25.

    The major areas of the Baumgartner and Jones topic coding scheme are:

    Macroeconomics Civil Rights and Liberties, Minority Issues

    Health Agriculture

    Labor, Employment, and Immigration Education

    Environment Energy

    Transportation Law, Crime, and Family Issues

    Social Welfare Community Development and Housing

    Banking, Finance, and Commerce Defense

    Foreign Trade Space/Science, Technology, Communication

    International Affairs and Foreign Aid Government Operations

    Public Lands and Water Management

    Underneath each of these major-topic areas are numerous sub-topic areas.

  26. 26.

    Jones (1994), p. 17; Neustadt (1960), ch. 1; Peterson (1990), ch. 1.

  27. 27.

    Jones (1994), p. 212.

  28. 28.

    Ibid, p. 212.

  29. 29.

    Ibid, p. 222.

  30. 30.

    Ibid, p. 226.

  31. 31.

    Edwards et al. (1997), p. 557.

  32. 32.

    Congressional Quarterly, Inc. (1980–1988).

  33. 33.

    U.S. Government Printing Office (1989), p. 86.


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Krutz, G.S. (2021). Omnibus Legislating in the U.S. Congress. In: Bar-Siman-Tov, I. (eds) Comparative Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Omnibus Legislation. Legisprudence Library, vol 8. Springer, Cham.

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