Waiting Game on the Budget: Will the Cockroaches Prevail?

December 14, 2015 | 1:45 pm
Celia Wexler
Former contributor

As I am writing this blog, it is Friday afternoon, December 11. Congress should have passed the spending bills for government operations for the 2016 fiscal year by October 1. Instead, faced with the prospect of a government shutdown, lawmakers approved a short-term bill to fund the government until December 11. Today is the deadline for that funding bill. And yet we are still playing the waiting game. Congress today gave itself five more days to reach agreement on a massive omnibus spending bill to pay for the government for another year.

A cockroach.

What’s the holdup? Delay largely results from a fight over issues that should not be part of the budget at all. We call these policy proposals “riders,” but that’s too kind a name for them. Better to call them budget cockroaches. They like the dark, they multiply, and they are very destructive. They lurk in either House or Senate spending bills. That means that they are fair game for inclusion in the budget negotiations.

What would these policy riders do? Here’s a selection, pulled from two previous blogs I’ve written, and a few new ones that have cropped up:

Hitting another brick wall on silica. This rider would once again delay a protective rule to prevent any more construction workers from experiencing serious respiratory problems or even lung cancer because of exposure to silica dust. While the dangers of exposure are well known and well documented, this rider would spend nearly $1 million on yet another study by the National Academy of Sciences to provide “epidemiological justification” for reducing exposure limits. The rule, first initiated in 2011, also couldn’t move forward until small businesses weigh in.

Halting crucial disclosures about political donations. One rider would prevent the President from requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. Another rider would prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring publicly traded companies from making similar disclosures. Our Center for Science and Democracy supports both disclosure proposals.

Our CSD reports have tracked the toxic link between political spending and public policies advanced by wealthy fossil fuel and chemical companies. Our members have strongly supported more disclosure.

Sabotaging science-informed nutrition advice. Really? Riders would make it very difficult for the federal dietary guidelines to give any meaningful guidance to American families about the importance of exercise as well as diet, or to endorse a diet that emphasizes fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meat and fish to prevent both obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Exempting flavored e-cigarettes from regulation by the FDA. Heaven forbid that the FDA might want to ensure that teens don’t get hooked on a potent nicotine delivery system.

Blocking expert advice to the Environmental Protection Agency: A proposal purportedly on “conflicts of interest” on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) actually is a sneaky device to make it easier for industry connected folks to serve on the SAB and more difficult for scientific experts to participate. Worst of all, until the EPA actually addresses the so-called flaws in its current SAB conflict-of-interest policies, and puts together recommendations based on congressional mandates that aim to tilt the playing field away from expertise, the SAB’s crucial work is suspended. This proposal is very similar to a bad House bill we fought earlier this year.

This is just a glimpse into the riders that remain threats until the final budget deal is completed. If you haven’t called your member of Congress and asked for a clean budget, without these noxious policy proposals,  there’s still time.

Ask members to kill the cockroaches and pass a clean budget bill.