Fight Over Policy Riders May Shut Down Government

The battle over a handful of conservative policy priorities has pushed the federal government to the precipice of a shut down.

Congressional Democrats, Republicans, and Tea Partiers, as well as the White House, have been bickering over the amount of cuts contained in a spending bill to fund the government for the remaining five-plus months of FY 2011. $30 billion? $40 billion? $60 billion? No one can agree.

With current budget deficits above $1 trillion, the squabbling over tens of billions shows that none of the players involved is serious about reducing the deficit. Nor would either side risk a government shutdown over such paltry, by government standards, amounts.

Rather, the fight is an ideological one, and the most volatile battle is the one over policy riders that have nothing to do with government spending levels. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tweeted this morning, “Major sticking point in budget deal are riders.”

The riders, contained in a radical spending bill passed by the House but rejected in the Senate, range from the sweeping – undoing health care reform; to the esoteric – halting studies of the Missouri River; to the peculiar – prohibiting assistance for mohair farmers.

No one thinks that a spending bill is the proper place for these kinds of policy decisions. “Congress should have an open debate on each policy and allow the public to speak out about the consequences of these decisions,” OMB Watch’s Executive Director Gary Bass said in a statement highlighting a letter from 154 public interest organizations urging Congress to pass a clean spending bill.

But a spending bill may be the only option conservatives have to wage their ideological war against government and the positive role it can play in ensuring health and welfare. The American public opposes what House Republicans are trying to do, and if each of the major riders were debated individually, they would likely fail.

  • 64 percent of Americans oppose attempts by Congress to take away the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The spending bill is one of many vehicles conservatives are trying to use to stop the EPA.
  • 58 percent support the Wall Street Reform Act. A rider in the spending bill would attack an agency created by the bill meant to protect consumers from financial abuse.
  • A whopping 82 percent support the creation of a database that allows consumers to report product defects and find the reports of others. One rider would eliminate the database.
  • And only 40 percent support repeal of the healthcare reform law which, while not a trivial number, is far from a majority. 

With such clear public opposition to the riders, Democrats and the White House should not be expected to give ground. House Republicans are in the wrong, and they must stand down and allow a clean spending bill to pass.

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