It’s Not About the Money

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Usually, when people say it’s not about the money, you know it is about the money. But this time, it’s not about the money.

I’m talking, of course, about the budget impasse that bids fair to shut down the government at midnight tonight. In February, House Republicans set a target of $32 billion to be cut from the last six months of the current fiscal year’s budget. The fiscal year ends Sept 30.

When President Barack Obama came back with an offer to cut an additional $1 billion, Republicans upped the ante. House Speaker John Boehner declined to mention a new number, saying instead his caucus would hold fast until they cut the largest amount possible.

So we all got distracted by the money. Much of the news media are still focusing on that, but last night we learned it’s not what the House majority’s stonewalling is about.

Turns out that H.R. 1, the budget bill passed by the House and rejected by the Senate, included 82 riders (provisions attached to specific sections in the bill) that have little to do with serious money and everything to do with the social program that was the hidden agenda of the 86 Tea Party members who got themselves elected to the House in 2010. Apparently Speaker Boehner is so cowed by the 86 freshmen that he is willing to sacrifice his personal integrity to support their intransigence.

Here is a clear explanation of the purpose of riders, provided by a conservative web site.

Riders are additional provisions annexed to a legislative bill under the consideration, often having little connection with the subject matter of the bill.  Riders are usually created as a tactic to pass a controversial provision which would not pass as its own bill, or as controversial provision attached to a bill not to be passed itself but to prevent the bill from being passed.

Media reports are now talking about 61 riders, which may mean Boehner has relinquished some of the demands. But the fact remains that House Republicans are taking advantage of an impending crisis to try to change the fabric of American society in ways that most who voted for the Tea Party people (few of whom identified themselves as such until the votes were counted) would never have approved. It’s clear from recent polls that independent voters who voted for Obama in 2008 and for Republican representatives in 2010 weren’t saying they want to forbid abortions declared legal by the Supreme Court, or take food out of the mouths of children in low-income families, or cut the number of air traffic controllers and Transportation Safety Administration employees – to name but a few of their policy riders.

I’m not here to argue specific policy points, although I have my opinions. I’m here to say that attaching them to a budget is a scurvy way of operating. If Republicans were really interested in cutting the budget deficit, which is what they claim to be about, they’d propose a budget that cuts funding to major agencies, and let the department heads figure out what functions to de-fund.

That’s how budgeting is done by adults, unless they’ve lied to the people who voted for them.

Here is a list of the riders considered most controversial by a leading conservative web site. It’s a clear indication of the points most important to the Tea Party people, and hence those Boehner is least likely to feel able to give in on. (Citing a list from a progressive web site would only tell us what the progressives find most offensive, and since they’re not the people with the stealth agenda, what they find most offensive is of lesser importance.)

  • Prohibits funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program.
  • Prohibits funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program.
  • Prohibits funding for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act.
  • Prohibits funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program or the State Energy Program.
  • Prohibits funding for various environmental projects in California.
  • Prohibits funding for a climate change czar in the White House.
  • Prohibits funding for EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.
  • Prohibits funding for the EPA to change a rule regulating water.
  • Prohibits funds for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • Prohibits funds for the EPA to implement regulations to designate coal ash reside as hazardous waste.
  • Prohibits funding for the IRS to implement health care reform.
  • Prohibits funds for a White House Director of Health Care reform.
  • Prohibits the District of Columbia from using its own, non-federal funds to pay for abortions beyond the very limited circumstances in which federal funds are currently available (in circumstances of rape or incest and to save the life of a pregnant woman).
  • Prohibits funding for needle-exchange programs.
  • Prohibits funding for sections of the Public Health Service Act.
  • Prohibits funds to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., or any of its affiliates.
  • Prohibits funds to pay any employee, officer or contractor to implement the provisions of the health care reform law.
  • Strips funding for any provision of the health care reform law.
  • Prohibits funding for the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, UN Population Fund, or for foreign NGOs that use their own non-U.S. funds to provide abortion services.

If there’s a government shutdown tonight, which seems inevitable, you can count on the House Republicans to try to pin the blame on the Democrats. They’ll say the Dems, who held a majority in both houses of Congress before the 2010 election, could have passed this fiscal year’s budget last year. You’ll know they’re lying when you see their lips move.

From the time Obama took office until the beginning of the current session of Congress, Senate Republicans, though in the minority, had enough members to prevent the Dems from doing almost anything. All they had to do was threaten to filibuster and, according to Senate rules, nothing could happen.

Now Boehner can, if he wants, get the House to approve the budget cuts he agreed to and then regnegged on. Here’s the math.

Members of the House of Representatives: 435 (with 2 vacancies)

Republican members: 241

Tea Party Republicans: 86

Remaining Republicans: 155

Democratic members: 192

Needed to pass budget cuts without riders: 218

So if Boehner can control the 155 members of his caucus who presumably are not radical ideologues, all he needs is the votes of 63 of the 192 Democrats. And that’s not going to be a problem

He has only to bring the matter to a vote and it passes. And all that Boehner needs to bring the matter to a vote is a dose of integrity and the backbone to stand up to the anarchists in his caucus. They would rather see the government shut down, and close to 800,000 government employees and millions of ordinary Americans suffer, than strip the budget bill of their policy goals and let Congress vote on them separately after this year’s budget is adopted.

Don’t let them fool you. If the House Republicans hold fast to their previously hidden agenda, they won’t be voting for you.

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