Removing right-wing riders

Late Thursday, policymakers struck an agreement on funding the government through September, averting a government shutdown that would have begun last night. The House easily approved the $1 trillion spending deal yesterday, and the Senate is expected to do the same today.

But while most of the talk yesterday was focused on the shutdown that didn’t happen, it’s worth pausing to ask whether the deal was any good (or in this climate, just how bad it was).

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the agreement is what’s not in it. House Republicans pushed for all kinds of “riders,” reflecting a far-right wish list, and as the New York Times noted in an editorial today, Democrats successfully dismissed those measures out of hand.

[House Republicans] wanted to stop spending on reforms of the financial system and health care, forbid financing on Planned Parenthood and NPR, limit family visits to Cuba and even prevent military chaplains from officiating at legal same-sex marriages. In particular, they wanted to roll back several vital environmental regulations, including limits on particulate matter in the air.

All of those riders were removed by Democrats in the final bill. As appropriators from both parties noted in negotiations, there was no point in catering to the most conservative House members because they would never vote for the spending bill anyway. And sure enough, 86 Republicans, mostly from the hard right, bucked their leadership and opposed the measure. It “does not offer drastic spending cuts,” explained one of them, Joe Walsh of Illinois.

I spoke with a Democratic source familiar with the bill last night, who noted some other “wins” from the omnibus spending bill. Republicans had included riders to prohibit funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the reinstatement of anti-family-planning Mexico City Policy, the termination of the Home Affordable Modification Program, a prohibition on the implementation of net neutrality, and the elimination of funding for Title X family planning programs.

How many of these riders survived in the final spending bill? None.

The package also advances several key Wall Street reform provisions, preserved AmeriCorps, and allows Race to the Top education standards to continue.

This isn’t to say the omnibus was ideal; it wasn’t. The overall spending has been reduced from the year prior — which isn’t a good idea in this economy — and there are some misguided ideas, including cuts to low-income heating assistance programs, fewer recipients of Pell Grants, and the District of Columbia can’t use its own money for abortions for poor women.

But given what far-right congressional Republicans wanted out of this agreement and didn’t get, it’s not a bad omnibus. It would have been infinitely better had Americans not elected the most right-wing House in modern history, but under the circumstances, there’s reason to feel satisfied.