$1.1 trillion federal budget laden with riders
Dec. 11 is key date for decisions on policy issues
WASHINGTON — Farm-state lawmakers are trying to thwart new clean water rules.
Banks are looking to ease oversight requirements.
Brokers are working to stall a new rule raising standards for investment advice on retirement accounts.
Truckers want longer tandem trucks permitted in every state.
These are just some of the policy battles that must be hashed out by Dec. 11 as Congress races to close out a $1.1 trillion spending bill and avoid a holiday season government shutdown.
President Obama and his Democratic allies promise to fight off what they consider the most glaring examples of GOP overreach. Republicans insist they won’t walk away empty-handed.
At issue are dozens of policy provisions that have hitched a ride onto the 12 spending bills. When a bill has trouble advancing on its own, lawmakers often try to add it to must-do appropriations legislation.
For powerful interest groups such as banks, broadcasters, and agribusiness, these riders are often the last chance to push items on their agenda through Congress. They also are a way for lawmakers to weigh in on pet issues such as gun rights, sales of antique ivory, management of wolf populations, and rest requirements for long-haul truckers.
Republicans have laced the spending bills with add-ons that take on Obama’s health law, new environmental regulations, and the 2010 Dodd-Frank law tightening oversight of the financial services industry. If history is any guide, Obama and Democrats — whose votes will be needed to pass the catch-all spending bill — will ward off most of them.
But lots of lower-tier issues are in play.
Anti-Castro forces in the House appear unlikely to reverse Obama’s moves to loosen rules about traveling to Cuba. But supporters of medical marijuana are hopeful they can win new guarantees against harassment by federal authorities.
Broadcasters have bipartisan support for letting them retain advertising sales agreements with other stations in the same market despite a new federal rule that curbs the practice. The Federal Communications Commission says big media companies are exploiting the agreements in order to evade restrictions against owning multiple stations in the same market.
Some conservatives are still pressing to use the spending legislation as a way to take away Planned Parenthood’s federal money and increase scrutiny of Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking to settle in the United States. Those are nonstarters with Obama and Democrats.
But as House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said at a recent forum, ‘‘There will have to be some riders in this for us to be able to pass’’ the massive bill.
Presidents invariably do well in negotiations on riders, and veto threats can force the removal of the most contentious policy add-ons. That has kept off previous omnibus bills such GOP initiatives as blocking implementation of the health overhaul, stalling antipollution measures, and watering down the financial industry oversight law off previous omnibus bills.
Democrats and the White House are talking tough on riders, and the president is issuing veto threats as freely as ever. This time, it means Republican attempts probably won’t make the cut on blocking rules on power plant emissions, delaying ozone standards, and weakening clean water standards involving mountaintop removal coal-mining operations.
Any rider with bipartisan support has a greater chance of making it. So broadcasters, supported by top Democrats such as Senator Charles Schumer of New York, have an advantage in getting exemptions for local television station sales agreements.
The financial services industry can claim some Democratic support for exemptions to some new regulatory burdens. Watchdogs such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren warn against efforts to ‘‘weaken, delay or dilute the rules that protect consumers and hold big banks accountable.’’ Warren was on the losing end last year over easing restrictions on banks that wanted to trade in risky financial items known as derivatives.
Once a rider is added the first time, the battle usually is over. A ban on enforcing efficiency standards for incandescent light bulbs is a repeat add-on; restrictions on listing the sage grouse, a bird species, under the Endangered Species Act are likely again.
Both cases would represent GOP victories that sound bigger than they really are. Industry has gone along with the light bulb standards anyway and the Interior Department has declined to take new steps on its own to protect the sage grouse.
Other repeat provisions would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the lead content of ammunition; ban federal dollars for needle exchange programs for addicts threatened by HIV; renew several long-standing provisions on abortion; and block the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana dispensaries.