Special Interest Wish List Goes Along for the Ride on House CR

by Craig Jennings, 3/9/2011

In the early hours of Saturday, Feb. 19, the House of Representatives passed a budget plan to continue funding the operations of the federal government for the remaining seven months of fiscal year (FY) 2011. In addition to $65.5 billion in cuts to discretionary spending, the bill (H.R. 1) contains at least 80 provisions that would go beyond setting funding levels for federal agencies and programs by setting conditions that would radically alter existing policies of the federal government. Although each policy "rider" in the continuing resolution (CR) may or may not have its merits, a stop-gap funding measure is no place for such decisions to be made.

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.

H.R. 1 is more of a conservative wish list from powerful special interests than a coherent set of policy priorities. The House CR takes a scattershot approach to what appears to ameliorate constituent and political donor concerns. For example, there is a provision specific to implementing the "Education Job Fund" in the state of Texas, one specific to a mine in West Virginia, and another specific to Florida water quality standards. Instead of putting together coherent strategies on air quality or mining, House Republicans opted to focus on satisfying the narrow concerns of interest groups rather than the nation as a whole.

Better budgeting and policy decisions are made within the framework of the normal order of Congress. Putting politics ahead of policy by attaching 80 or more disparate yet far-reaching policy riders to a stopgap funding measure will put the nation's public protections, social safety net, and long-term economic investment at risk.

Download the list of H.R. 1 policy riders here.

Download the list of H.R. 1 policy riders with legislative language for each here.

Download this analysis as a PDF here.

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