It just sounds bureaucratic, archaic, the embodiment of insider Washington vernacular. And that is indeed the well from which it springs: A portmanteau of continuing resolution, shortened in Hill-speak to C.R., and omnibus.
The House GOP leadership wants to combine them — funding most of the government for a year with an omnibus bill, but the agencies responsible for President Obama’s executive actions on immigration for a shorter period with a CR. It’s the best plan they have so far to fight the White House on the issue.
And that’s why this unholy congressional creation is populating news reports and press releases as lawmakers lurch toward this month’s funding deadline.
But where did it come from? TPM undertook an investigation. The term is less than a decade old. Nobody seems to want to claim responsibility for this particularly grating Capitol Hill slang, but in a twist, a 2007 statement from then-House Minority Leader John Boehner appears to take credit for coining it.
“This is a description of the indescribable, basically,” Jim Dyer, who worked for the House Appropriations Committee for more than a decade, told TPM in a phone interview this week. “It’s only for the people who are living it on a daily basis.”
Some news outlets have mistakenly credited this Congress with creating the term. It might be the first to truly popularize it, but a LexisNexis search reveals that the first press mention is a Jan. 30, 2007, CQ Roll Call article. Ironically, it was the Republicans criticizing a budget ploy by the new Democratic majorities. “Some Republicans derided the bill as a ‘CRomnibus’,” the newspaper reported at the time.
Then-House Minority Leader John Boehner’s office used it and accused Democrats of “cramming roughly half the entire federal discretionary budget and assorted policy changes into one vehicle,” according to a Greenwire article from the same day.
The statement from Boehner’s office was released two days before press reports picked up the term, Jan. 28, 2007.
“While the details of this Omnibus spending bill — or CROMNIBUS, to coin a hybrid phrase for cramming roughly half the entire federal discretionary budget and assorted policy changes into one vehicle — have not been made public, a few of its figures have been leaked,” the statement reads.
A quick query to a Hill source about the usage in 2007 returned no recollection of why they decided to trot out the term. Cromnibus popped up again in 2010 when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) was criticizing a similar funding plan by Senate Democrats in an official statement, per LexisNexis.
Maybe it doesn’t require that much explanation. “Omnibus” is not actually an appropriations word, Dyer pointed out, but something created by congressional leadership to describe these massive spending bills designed to avoid funding fights. C.R., too, is a Capitol colloquialism. This is just what people on the Hill do.
“I think it’s some wordsmith’s response to the fact that you had a piece of legislation that would contain a number of titles like this,” Dyer added. “You get this rather ridiculous ‘cromnibus.'”
Because once some bright budget mind decided to take this approach to funding the government, the word was just sitting there, waiting to be christened. The first instance of a C.R. and omnibus bill being combined that TPM could track down was in 1996. An email exchange by members of the U.S. Student Association has been posted online by the University of Buffalo (for some reason). While discussing FY 1997 negotiations, one emailer referred to “the FY97 CR/Omnibus bill.”
It would have just taken a slip of the tongue and you have the term that is now torturing Hill reporters and even members of Congress themselves. Rep. John Mica (R-FL) kept stumbling into saying “cram the bus” while discussing the bills this week, followed by a giggle, per TPM’s Sahil Kapur.