With fights over budget policy riders threatening to shut down the government, it’s interesting to take a look at what types of policy changes the House GOP is trying to extract through the budget process. Luckily, OMB Watch, a decidedly competent left-of-center regulatory watchdog that happens to have its offices just a few doors down from mine, has put together a very good list of the budget riders that Republicans have attached to their spending plan.
A few observations:
1. The media-popular idea idea that the budget fight is driven by the GOP’s cultural-conservative wing seems overblown. There are three provisions (out of nearly 100) that relate to abortion: one applies only the District of Columbia, one only to international organizations, and one only to Planned Parenthood. (And, given a federal court ruling that a more-or-less identical law about ACORN was unconstitutional, the last won’t stand up in court.) I’m pro-life myself and honestly I can’t see much of a reason to get excited about any of these provisions. There’s nothing in the proposal, best as I can tell, that impacts gays, marriage, gambling, or booze.
2. The proposed healthcare policy riders are so broad that if implemented, they would amount to an outright repeal of the healthcare bill. They offer so little wiggle-room that President Obama can’t, as a political mater, agree to even a single one of them as written.
3. For all the wish-list-making involved in the health care fight, the much longer list of environment-related riders looks like it was written almost entirely by specific industry lobbyists who have good relationships with certain members of Congress. Although there are some very broad efforts that would end virtually every climate-change or carbon-regulation program in the government, most of the environmental efforts are very narrow and, one assumes, serve a very few interests.
Among other things, there are specific provisions that suspend a very particular rule related to cement making, end an obscure wetlands conservation program, change the treatment of coal ash as a pollutant, and end funding for a particular dam removal study in California. These are the stuff of typical budget riders and whether they are good or bad policy, it’s hard to see most of the bill’s non-climate change environmental provisions as anything other than the result of very narrow interest-group politics.
4. A few riders don’t appear to have been written by people who didn’t know what they were doing. For example, there’s a ban on aid to Saudi Arabia even though the U.S. doesn’t provide any (the U.S. provides some training assistance to the Saudis to help them fight terrorists but doesn’t actually send any aid checks), two separate provisions ending the “Climate Change Czar,” a restriction on Congress spending money on committee room renovations (which, since Congress itself has to appropriate the money and can’t bar itself from doing so in the future, is utterly meaningless), and a ban on funding for the White House “Fairness Doctrine Czar” which, best as I can tell, is a position that doesn’t exist and never has existed. (There’s a longstanding, somewhat silly sounding FCC position that the bill’s authors may be aiming for there.)