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Assessing the Prevalence of Omnibus Lawmaking in the US Congress

Fri, August 30, 8:00 to 9:30am, Marriott, Washington 2


With an increasingly dysfunctional and polarized U.S Congress, legislators have pursued a number of unorthodox strategies for enacting new legislation. Omnibus lawmaking, where a number of disparate policies are combined into a single bill, is often cited as a particularly important form of unorthodox lawmaking. Yet outside of particularly prominent examples of omnibus legislation, which usually include the term "Omnibus" in their title, relatively little is known about the extent of omnibus lawmaking. I introduce a new computational method for measuring the number of separate policies contained in a bill, based on variation in the text of the bill across individual sections. I then apply it to all legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress since 1993. I use this new measure to explore two important aspects of omnibus lawmaking: the degree to which its use is related to institutional conditions (such as divided government); and how the number separate policies in a typical piece of legislation changes as it moves through the legislative process.