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The Special Interest Wish List That's Holding the Rest of Us Hostage

March 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The open amendment process that House Republicans used to create their 2011 budget bill had its benefits. For example, it allowed a bipartisan group of rank-and-file Reps. to stand against party leadership and strip out funding for a costly alternative engine program for a fighter jet that the Air Force itself says is unnecessary. On the other hand, it gave members who were looking to fulfill promises to powerful political interests a platform to do so. The policy riders that were added to the budget bill are keeping Congress bogged down with stopgap funding to keep the government from shutting down and preventing them from engaging in serious negotiations over funding levels for the rest of the year. That in turns means there’s no time to work on other important issues, like job creation and long-term debt reduction.

OMB Watch has compiled a list of 80 “special interest wish list” items in the House’s 2011 budget bill that they say “go beyond setting funding levels for federal agencies and programs by setting conditions that would radically alter existing policies of the federal government.” This is the stuff that’s standing in the way of the Republican House and the Democratic Senate having serious talks about setting 2011 spending levels and how different adjustments would affect the economy. Instead, Democrats are stuck arguing with Republicans over letting telecom corporations create a tiered internet and blocking the EPA implementing dozens of regulations opposed by polluting industries.

You can download the full OMB Watch has put together here to see the kind of items we’re looking at (full bill text for reference). And here’s their smart take on why this stuff should never have been added to the budget bill:

The House held no hearings on their budget bill, which prevented relevant committees from weighing the consequences of dozens of program and agency restrictions, nor were committee members given a chance to defend the dozens of programs that would be affected by these 80-plus policy riders. Additionally, the public was frozen out of the process, leaving no opportunity for outside voices to be heard. Despite having several months to debate the merits of these drastic policy proposals, House Republicans opted to let political considerations, rather than considered judgment, guide the crafting of the bill that was ultimately approved.

Tacking on such radical policy riders to a spending bill unduly puts the continued functioning of the federal government at risk. Although setting spending limits on federal agencies is ultimately a policy decision process, questions of whether to end a federal program should be made in consultation with the committees of jurisdiction relevant to that program. There is an appropriate avenue for such debates, and that is the normal annual appropriations process that allows sufficient time to question the merits of every federal program subject to discretionary funding. Additionally, allowing amendments that would have profound effects on national policy goals should not be short-circuited by including them in the last minutes of debate of a must-pass stopgap funding measure. Ultimately, poor spending decisions could result from an unnecessary debate about the appropriateness of 80 different policy decisions.

And, yes, the Democrats failed to get the 2011 budget done last year when they were in control of the House, which is why Congress is now rushing to extend funding. But that failure does not justify the tactics Republicans are using to pursue their social agenda.

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