Here Is The Single Dumbest Thing In The Government Spending Bill

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WASHINGTON -- Democrats in Congress are thrilled that they were able to fight off conservative riders in a must-pass spending bill to avert a government shutdown. The so-called omnibus bill will not defund Planned Parenthood, prohibit Syrian refugees from finding asylum in America, make it harder for fast food workers to unionize, or help retirement fund managers gouge their clients for personal profit.

But Republicans did totally roll Democrats on one issue: defunding ACORN.

No matter that the anti-poverty group officially folded more than five years ago. Republicans have relentlessly beaten this dead horse in spending bills ever since, and they show no signs of stopping now. From page 1,016 of the 2,009-page bill:

SEC. 522. None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.

Of course, ACORN cannot receive money from the federal government anyway, because it does not exist. As a non-entity, ACORN also has no affiliates or subsidiaries. "Allied organizations" and "successors" are not even legally defined terms.

In 2009, conservative provocateur James O'Keefe released selectively edited videos that appeared to show ACORN employees attempting to provide tax advice for prostitution rings. The group had alerted authorities about the requests from O'Keefe's undercover character, however, and subsequent investigations by the California attorney general, the Massachusetts attorney general and the Brooklyn, N.Y., district attorney all cleared ACORN of criminal wrongdoing, while an investigation by the Government Accountability Office would clear the group of charges that it mishandled federal funds.

But Congress didn't wait to figure out whether the video was an elaborate hoax. Republicans had long stoked conspiracy theories that ACORN was helping Democrats steal elections by engaging in broad voter fraud operations. It wasn't, but Republicans exploited the hubbub over the videos to force a vote that cut off ACORN's federal funding. By 2010, the group had closed its doors. Miraculously, somehow, Democrats managed to win the 2012 presidential election without ACORN's assistance.

Undaunted, Republicans have soldiered on, continuing to block federal funds to the defunct organization again and again and again and again. Their last attack on ACORN came in December 2014. O'Keefe, meanwhile, paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit from one of the ACORN employees who appeared in his video, and issued an apology to the man.

The ACORN rider is the result of boilerplate language that the House Appropriations subcommittees slapped on every bill they passed. There were different versions of the anti-ACORN wording, with some less ambitious lawmakers settling for phrasing that merely blocked funds to ACORN "or its subsidiaries." The version included in the new omnibus bill is the most comprehensive to date, stripping ACORN of any funding it might receive under any piece of legislation Congress has ever approved.

Most subcommittees have stopped including ACORN riders on their legislation, but apparently the appropriators for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education refuse to surrender.

There are other pointless riders in the omnibus, which includes the following anti-porn language no fewer than four times:

"None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to maintain or establish a computer network unless such network blocks the viewing, downloading, and exchanging of pornography."

That language has passed Congress before. Legal experts say it is completely meaningless.

Zach Carter is a co-host of the HuffPost Politics podcast "So That Happened." Subscribe here, or listen to the latest episode below:

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