‘Poisonous' Riders Cloud Spending Bills' Prospects

By Nancy Ognanovich

May 18 — Controversial policy provisions are reappearing on this year's appropriations bills, setting the stage for what lawmakers said will likely be another year-end battle between Republican congressional leaders and the White House.

The provisions taking a ride on bills being advanced by the House Appropriations Committee include a number pushed by gun rights groups, the trucking industry, and opponents of trade with Cuba. Democrats said the add-ons cloud the prospects for the measures when Republican leaders try to bring them to the House floor this summer.

The $56 billion Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill was approved at the subcommittee level May 18 but Democrats signaled that they will work to strip out what they called “poisonous” riders when the measure moves to full committee markup, now expected the week of May 23. While supportive of the overall bill, Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said the inclusion of riders on guns, Cuba trade and more could cost the bill votes as it moves ahead.

Meanwhile, the otherwise popular $58.2 billion Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development bill that was the subject of a markup later on May 18 also is drawing criticism from Democrats for extending a prohibition against an Obama administration rule that would establish a 70-hour maximum work week for truckers and a 34-hour rest period. The language has drawn a veto threat (see related story in this report).

Even the usually noncontroversial $3.48 billion Legislative Branch spending bill generated controversy earlier in the week for its inclusion of language directing the Library of Congress to use “illegal alien” in searches instead of the “non-citizen” or “unauthorized immigrant” currently used.

“These partisan riders and lack of attention paid to so many key programs makes this bill problematic,” said C-J-S Subcommittee ranking member Mike Honda (D-Calif.) shortly before the bill was cleared for full committee.

Halfway Mark Seen

With action on the THUD bill, the committee now has started to move seven of the 12 fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills. The first of those—the $81.6 billion Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill (H.R. 4974), was scheduled to hit the House floor later in the day and be put to a final vote by week's end.

“As a committee we're now halfway home,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said at the C-J-S markup, where he praised the bill for providing a $279 million increase. He said the panel prioritized funding for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

But Lowey said the prospects for C-J-S and other bills remain mixed, saying this year's process already started off “on the wrong foot” when Republicans were unable to agree to a budget resolution. Minus that, Rogers is advancing bills written to reflect the $1.070 trillion discretionary spending cap in the last fall's two-year budget deal, but that level of spending continues to generate opposition from conservatives, who want to cut the total by $30 billion (See previous story, 05/10/16).

“I only hope it does not foreshadow future breakdowns,” Lowey said.

Lowey and Honda found items in the C-J-S bill to praise, including the FBI's funding and increases to help the Justice Department investigate sexual assault cases.

But, “I was disappointed to see so many partisan riders included in this bill, including a rider that prohibits DOJ from requiring firearm dealers to report on multiple sales to the same person of certain rifles or shotguns hampering law enforcement's ability to track those who may be stockpiling weapons with the intent of conducting a mass shooting,” Honda said.

Lowey called “shameful” a decision to include the gun riders while funding is inadequate for hiring local police and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents. “As we move forward, we must eliminate riders that prevent law enforcement from sensibly addressing gun crime,” she said.

Internet Domains Rider

Meanwhile, the rider affecting Cuba trade that drew criticism would prohibit funds for exports to Cuban military officers and their families.

Honda also said he is troubled by the inclusion of a rider that would block the Commerce Department from going ahead with a plan to move the oversight of Internet domain systems functions to an international multistakeholder process.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com