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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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  • RATUCKER 03/14/2011 12:51pm

    these guy s need to pull there heads out of there politcal asses and start doing something about ui and jobs or we will all be screwed

  • eth111 03/15/2011 2:27am

    It is interesting to see a “non-partisan” group pointing the finger at the Republican party when both parties are guilty of pandering special interests. What the members of congress, collectively, fail to understand is that they have overstepped their bounds six ways from Sunday over the last century and that is what got us into this mess.
    As for the budget proposals themselves, ignoring for the moment the non-budgetary riders, they are mere pittances. The original Democratic proposal was $4B. That is the equivalent of an individual with an income of $50K per year making an adjustment to their budget amounting to $55 per year (one less dinner out at a nice restaurant per year). The Republicans don’t come in much better $61B, which in the same perspective is that individual forgoing the $3 cup of Starbuck’s coffee every day.

  • eth111 03/15/2011 2:38am

    What is the most disturbing is that half of the federal budget is “mandatory” spending. Given that tidbit, government shutdown is the only way to balance the budget for this year since entitlements alone consume all of the revenue. Keep in mind that government “shutdown” only kills “discretionary” spending.
    The real challenge is the “mandatory” spending more commonly referred to as entitlements. The lack of funding in the OASDI “Trust Fund” is criminal theft perpetrated by the Congress/Treasury/Fed by filling it with Treasury bonds that cannot be called in without causing extreme inflation. A system that brings in more than it pays out for 75 years should have substantial reserves as the revenue/expenditure ratio flips without being a drain on the other revenue streams.

  • fakk2 03/16/2011 11:30am

    These riders are awesome! 63 of them start with “Prohibits (or Bans or Bars) funds…” that’s exactly what I wanted to see. Notwithstanding whether or not the riders should be there in the first place, the “social agenda” I wanted to see was exactly what’s happening with prohibiting funds or putting restrictions on funds and killing a majority of programs that we’re told we need.

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