139 Groups Sign Letter Demanding Policy Riders Be Stripped From Govt. Funding Bill

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of 139 groups have written a letter to the leadership in the Senate and the White House demanding that any continuing resolution to fund the government and prevent a shutdown be stripped of all unrelated amendments, or “policy riders.”

The letter -- signed by, among others, prominent organizations from the progressive, labor, health, and environmental advocacy worlds -- comes as Congressional leadership finds itself in a high-stakes, 11th hour attempt to forge consensus on a bill that would keep the government funded through the end of September.

The authors write:

The undersigned organizations, on behalf of our millions of members and supporters, write today to express our strong opposition to inclusion of any policy riders in legislation that will fund government operations for Fiscal Year 2011.

There have not been any hearings related to these extraordinarily far-reaching proposals. This back-door means of legislating does not allow for adequate debate about the merits of such sweeping policy changes, which deserve full deliberation by both chambers in the course of the normal legislative process.

The House of Representatives' Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1), which was voted on one month ago, included vast cuts and erected obstructions to critical public health, worker safety, consumer, civil rights, and environmental programs. We urge you to adopt a strict policy of rejecting all such provisions in subsequent 2011 spending bills, rather than negotiating one harmful rider against another.

While the number of groups that signed the letter is impressive, the likelihood remains that they will end the negotiating process disappointed. Members of both Democratic and Republican leadership (in both congressional chambers) have come to a tentative understanding to keep some riders in the final continuing resolution. The debate, instead, has shifted to which of the controversial provisions leadership can purge without risking needed -- predominantly Tea Party -- votes.

As it stands, lawmakers are likely to scrap the most controversial riders, such as those that would defund Planned Parenthood and restrict the amount of money used to implement health care reform. There has been some chatter that Democrats would stomach an amendment that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate power plants, but the White House put out a statement on Thursday saying they would oppose such a move.

Among the most prominent signatories to the letter are labor union SEIU, civil liberties defender ACLU, and the National Organization of Women.