Policy Riders: Bringing Transparency to a Shadowy Legislative Process

Schoolhouse Rock was only partly correct: getting a bill through Congress is just one way to turn proposals into law. Another way to write your policy demands into law is to hide them in the funding bills Congress passes every year to keep the government running. These “policy riders” in appropriations bills are temporary, but they establish new policies just like normal laws. Their use effectively shuts the public out of important policy discussions, and they undermine the openness of the legislative process. To remedy this practice, Congress can take some lessons learned from its reforms of the earmarking process.

read in full

Commentary: Earmark Ban's Potential Impacts Unclear

Earmarks took center stage during the week of Nov. 15 when congressional Republicans pledged to "ban" the controversial appropriations tool in a bid to answer the supposed call of midterm voters to reform Washington. Long used by members of Congress to guide federal spending toward certain projects, earmarks can be seen by the public as a form of corruption. While proponents of the ban argue that eliminating earmarks is good for both transparency and the budget, critics of the ban argue this is not necessarily the case.

read in full

For-Profits Use Nonprofit Structure to Avoid Earmark Ban

In response to intense criticism of congressional earmarks, House Appropriations Chair David Obey (D-WI) announced a ban on all earmarks to for-profit organizations. These companies and their congressional patrons wasted little time in funneling earmarks to nonprofit organizations in order to circumvent the ban. Using nonprofits to circumvent the ban on earmarks raises questions about the practice itself, as well as the policy of ending all earmarks to for-profit corporations.

read in full

House Adopts Changes in New Rules Package

The 111th Congress began work on Jan. 5 when the House approved a new rules package, including further earmark reforms and a modification of pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules.

read in full

2008 Fiscal Policy Year in Review

It's been an exceptional year. 2008 saw not only economic indicators that evoked memories of the Great Depression, but also a record-breaking federal budget deficit. The federal government, through several agencies, activated trillions of dollars in loans and asset guarantees. Congress approved the largest supplemental spending bill in its history and gave the Treasury Department the authority to expend the equivalent of three-fourths of the federal discretionary budget on one sector of the economy. But in many other ways, Congress proved to be unremarkable by staying true to its recent history of underachievement.

read in full

Democrats, Obama Prepare Economic Stimulus Package for January

The passage of an unemployment insurance extension, which occurred at the end of November, is likely the last effort by the 110th Congress to enact legislation to stimulate the economy. With Republicans continuing to block immediate passage of a large economic stimulus package, Democrats are preparing to move legislation as soon as President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January 2009.

read in full

Commentary: Despite Record Deficits, Stimulus Package Warranted

Although enactment of an economic stimulus package could push the federal budget deficit above $1 trillion, political consensus on its necessity is emerging. Political factions are split on the issues of how large and what form a stimulus package should take. Economists, however, indicate that targeted spending can be a powerful weapon to address recession and the effects of economic hardship on American families, even if it increases the deficit. Now is exactly the time to be enacting such fiscal policy.

read in full

Commentary: Bailout Package Signed into Law; Economic Stimulus Still Needed

With the enactment of a $700 billion Wall Street bailout, or "financial rescue" package, prospects for success in stabilizing the nation's financial markets remain uncertain. Certain, however, is that deteriorating economic conditions that continue to put Americans on the unemployment rolls will remain unaffected by the implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). And despite over $100 billion in tax cuts included in the package, Congress failed to leverage even modest economic stimulus from the resulting jump in the federal budget deficit. If and when Congress returns to work for a lame-duck session after the elections, it should consider what steps to take next to improve the economy and aid those who have fallen victim to it.

read in full

Appropriations Breakdown Threatens Federal Investments

As the FY 2009 appropriations process grinds to a halt, a new OMB Watch analysis of the past nine fiscal years reveals that the nation's priorities are better served when Congress and the president work together to complete the annual appropriations process. Congress's abandonment of the FY 2009 appropriations process increases the risk that the resources critical to vital government supports will be further constrained as both sides of the aisle simply refuse to work toward agreement on FY 2009 appropriations legislation.

read in full

Bush Signs War Supplemental, Cements Fiscal Legacy

Contrary to his assertion that he would "not accept a supplemental over $108 billion," President Bush signed a $257 billion war supplemental spending package on June 30. The bill will fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of the fiscal year (ending Sept. 30) and through the first several months of the next president's term.

read in full