When is a fight over spending bills not about the spending?
When the battle actually is over attempts to inject unrelated conservative abortion, environmental, and other policies into must-pass legislation to keep the federal government open for business.
That’s just what’s happening now as environmental groups and others have begun to push back against Republicans who once again want to add so-called policy “riders” onto pending budget bills.
Lawmakers still must approve legislation to approve spending for most of the federal government, including the military, environmental programs, and more.
The Obama administration itself is against these riders, which Republicans are using as a back-door means to roll back regulations and enact conservative social policy.
“I haven’t seen the clear movement away from the riders that we’re going to need to see,” White House budget director Jack Lew was quoted as saying. “These issues kind of keep coming back up.”
Environmental riders reportedly include a measure which would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from being able to exercise its current authority to regulate the emissions which are blamed for climate change.
“At a time when Congress should be working to complete its long-delayed work to fund the government and extend expiring tax provisions, there is no excuse for making the process more difficult by saddling these bills with unpopular provisions that would damage health and the environment,” a coalition of environmental groups write in a letter sent to the Democratic and Republican leaders of both houses of Congress.
Injecting such riders into spending bills is nothing new.
Just earlier this year, Republicans nearly forced a government shutdown — not over the level of spending, but over policy riders like one to defund Planned Parenthood. The GOP lost that fight at the eleventh hour.
“These riders, like the many others being discussed, would not save taxpayers a dime or alter tax policy, but they would do real damage to health and the environment, and they have not received the scrutiny they require, or they have already been defeated in one chamber,” the environmental groups say of the number of anti-environmental riders Republicans are trying to force. “Congress should be spending its time trying to conclude the work it needs to complete by the end of the year, not using deadlines as an excuse to kill safeguards on which the public relies.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.