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How Banking, Mining and Cement Companies Could Shut Down the Government

If the U.S. government is going to close up shop, dammit, I want to know what it's really about. So here's what it's really about: business.

The showdown between congressional Democrats and Republicans is no longer primarily about the size of federal spending cuts -- party leaders have narrowed their differences on that front to only a few billion dollars, a rounding error given the $3.5 trillion budget. The main hold-up, suggests the NYT, is haggling over a slew of amendments that House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans have attached to their spending bill that have nothing to do with balancing the budget:

Democrats said Mr. Boehner insisted that any deal also include some of so-called policy riders, which they argued injected conservative ideology into what should be a numbers battle.
Where interests align

Let's take a closer look at what a few of these riders would do, courtesy of OMB Watch:
  • Prohibit funding for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases
  • Prohibit the Federal Reserve from providing more than $80 million in funding to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Prohibit funding for a federal "consumer products complaints database"
  • Prohibit funding for wetlands conservation
  • Prohibit funding for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act
  • Prohibit funding to implement a federal rule that would close roads and trails in national forests
  • Prohibit funding for the IRS to implement health care reform
(There are lots more, which you can find here starting in the section marked "Title I: General Provisions.")

Let's keep score, shall we? Energy interests oppose the climate-change rules; banking interests oppose the CFPB; manufacturing interests oppose creation of a consumer products complaints database; agribusiness opposes wetlands conservation; water interests oppose clean-water regulation; and health care interests oppose health care reform. I can't think of who, exactly, might be against preserving our national forests... other than Mr. Burns.

Other measures are even more narrowly tailored. One backed by Rep. David McKinley and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, both West Virginia Republicans, would stop the EPA from revoking a permit for the state's Spruce Mine, which is owned by Arch Coal (ACI), the second-largest coal producer in the U.S. In 2009, the agency withdrew the permit under the Clean Water Act on grounds that the mountaintop mine would ravage the environment.

Another amendment introduced by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, appears to have been filed on behalf of cement manufacturers and seeks to halt the EPA from regulating toxic emissions from -- you got it -- cement.

The end of ideology
Such riders are standard stuff when it comes to crafting legislation. But what's revealing is that so few of them in the House Republican bill center on social issues of traditional importance to "cultural" conservatives. Although several amendments do touch on these issues, such as an anti-abortion measure that would forbid funding for Planned Parenthood, most appear to serve certain industries. Writes Eli Lehrer at the (avowedly Republican) FrumForum:

[T]he much longer list of environment-related riders looks like it was written almost entirely by specific industry lobbyists who have good relationships with certain members of Congress. Although there are some very broad efforts that would end virtually every climate-change or carbon-regulation program in the government, most of the environmental efforts are very narrow and, one assumes, serve a very few interests.
The host of business-focused amendments larding the House budget bill prompts The New Republic's Jon Chait to ask this important question:
Is it normal for a party that controls just one chamber of the House to insist it must move policy in its direction, on numerous fronts, as a condition for allowing the government to continue?
Sorry, normal service has been suspended. When it will resume is anyone's guess.

If the government turns out the lights tomorrow, it will be less over grand philosophical differences separating the parties, or even spending, and more about the juice that makes politics go -- money.

John Boehner image from Wikimedia Commons, CC2.0; Mr. Burns image from Flickr user Spleeney

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