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January 14, 2014 11:51 AM Watch Out For the Riders

By Ed Kilgore

With the leaden step of a done deal, Congress is moving towards approval of an omnibus appropriations bill that would implement last month’s budget deal and fund the federal government until the end of the fiscal year.

The big picture, of course, is that the deal unhinged appropriations from the sequester, letting them breathe again. For most non-defense discretionary programs, the new baseline is at a level higher than in 2011, but lower than, say, Bush’s final budget.

But numbers aside, this, like ever other appropriations bill, is loaded with “riders,” or policy mandates implemented via conditions on spending. Here are some examples from WaPo’s Montgomery and O’Keefe:

The agreement is riddled with dozens of controversial policy riders. One would bar funding to enforce a law that requires incandescent light bulbs to meet new efficiency standards.
The measure would continue a ban on transferring terrorism detainees at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to sites in the United States. It would also withhold additional funding for the government of Afghanistan until the country agrees to a new bilateral security agreement. And the measure would ban foreign aid for Libya until Secretary of State John F. Kerry “confirms Libyan cooperation” with ongoing investigations into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack at the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.
The measure would also provide new congressional backing for Obama’s strategy of continuing aid to Egypt, despite a law that forbids U.S. military aid to governments that have taken power by military coup, as Egypt’s interim military-backed government did in July.
Several issues regarding gun control are also included in the bill. The legislation restricts the Justice and Homeland Security departments from establishing programs similar to the “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking effort. In response to allegations that the administration has been stockpiling ammunition for use by federal agents, the measure also requires Homeland Security to provide detailed reports on its purchase and use of ammunition.
The measure also continues a ban on the use of federal funding to perform most abortions, including abortions in the District and for federal prisoners. But Republicans agreed to jettison other contentious proposals, including a ban on new federal regulations for greenhouse gases and the “global gag rule,” which sought to prohibit U.S. funding for organizations that give women information about abortion.

You will note that most of the proposed riders are coming from the Right. This presumably reflects the continuing leverage conservatives enjoy, despite high-profile defeats on the budget, as people willing to blow up government if it’s not run their way. So keep an eye on the price they exert via riders.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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