Running The Omnibus Off The Cliff

Even by Congressional standards, the Omnibus legislation passed by Congress last week was massive.  The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 is 5593 pages.  It includes the long-awaited COVID relief, the continued funding of the federal government, and the other spending priorities of both our Congress and our President.

Some of our friends on social media are learning about Omnibus legislation for the first time.  Their shocked ignorance is being fueled by people who know better but are enjoying the opportunity to take advantage of the newly “aware”.  For those who need a concise definition, this is from

Omnibus: [Latin, For all; containing two or more independent matters.] A term frequently used in reference to a legislative bill comprised of two or more general subjects that is designed to compel    the executive to approve provisions that he or she would otherwise reject but that he or she signs into law to prevent the defeat of the entire bill.

Major spending bills are passed on a bipartisan basis.  Spending priorities are not a Democrat vs. Republican issue.  There are regional concerns, geopolitical considerations, and a host of interests who have found a way to be heard.  Well-crafted legislation is remembered by each legislator for the victories scored.  Those same legislators ignore or forget where they have given ground.

I couldn’t wait to read the bill.  OK, not all of the bill.  I have a life.  My interests lie in Pages 4096 to 4463, “The No Surprises Act”.  I knew this was going to be good when a Senator, someone who had absolutely nothing to do with the drafting of this legislation, sent me an email.  His alert was filled with weasel words that made it look like he was responsible for the legislation.  He wrote that he was continuing “to work to ensure that health care opportunities are available to all Ohioans”.  Everyone was taking credit.

So how good is the legislation?  Pretty darn good.  The key element is that the patient is no longer a direct victim of Surprise Billing.  The insurance companies will deal with the non-network providers and hedge funds.  Protection for both Emergency and non-Emergency Care is included.  Even Air Ambulances are included in The No Surprises Act.  There is some haziness on the definition of Informed Consent, which must be addressed during the rulemaking.  All in all, this legislation could be an important benefit for the health care consumer.

It may also be irrelevant.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 is in limbo.  Donald Trump has announced that he won’t sign it.  The stated reason is neither real nor relevant.   At this moment you may reduce his constant tweets and his bizarre video to “I didn’t really lose and I want more attention”.  As of right now, Sunday afternoon, he hasn’t signed the bill and he hasn’t vetoed it.  If he signs the bill, millions of Americans get COVID relief, our government is funded, and we’ve gone a long way towards ending Surprise Billing.  If he vetoes the bill, Congress has the opportunity to override his veto or face the voters if they fail.  But there is another option, a Pocket Veto.

From the US Senate website:

Pocket Veto – The Constitution grants the president 10 days to review a measure passed by the Congress. If the president has not signed the bill after 10 days, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period, the bill does not become law

Congress cannot override a Pocket Veto.  If Trump continues this temper tantrum and neither signs nor vetoes the bill, it will be up to the next Congress to start all over.  The COVID relief needed by countless Americans will have to wait.  The funding of our military, our seniors on Social Security, and every other government function will be put on hold until Congress can pass new, emergency legislation.  And that legislation, thrown together by necessity, will have to be redrafted at that time.  The No Surprises Act may appear again someday as a separate piece of legislation or again a part of some larger bill.  It is unlikely that it will be included in the emergency continuing resolution Congress passes to keep the government open while we wait for the next administration.

We will revisit The No Surprises Act when/if it becomes law.  We have more important issues right now, like an Omnibus going over the cliff.


Picture – No Surprises Act – David L Cunix

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