“If conservative members of Congress don’t provide leadership with a set of policy defunds that, if included in the omnibus spending bill, will win their vote, and if leadership isn’t actively engaging them, then the legislation will be subject to the exact kind of deal-making with the Democrats that led to former Speaker John Boehner’s demise earlier this year.”
That was Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning’s challenge in a column for TheHill.com to Republican leaders and conservative lawmakers in Congress, to come together in the omnibus spending bill on one thing that ought to unite the GOP, and that is stopping key aspects of the Obama agenda.
In the past, many of these efforts have focused on big ticket items, such as defunding implementation of the health care law, President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty program for illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children, and defunding Planned Parenthood in the wake of videos showing organization employees discussing the sale of the body parts of unborn babies.
Less focus however has been put on policy riders that perhaps readers have not heard of, but still would limit the size and scope of government all the same and even be signed into law.
A perfect example actually came in the 2015 omnibus spending bill. A rider originally offered by U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) in the Commerce, Science and Justice Appropriations Bill defunded a policy by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to cede administration of the Internet’s domain name system to the private Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a practice currently performed under government contract.
ICANN would be left with a government-created global monopoly on the assigning of Internet domain names and IP addresses. And users of the Internet would be left without any First Amendment protections and recourse in federal court should the functions ever be used to engage in censorship.
The Internet giveaway, as we called it, was defunded through Sept. 30, 2015, and then in the continuing resolution that passed, it was defunded again through Dec. 11, 2015. Defunding it again for the remainder of the fiscal year should be a no-brainer for lawmakers. It’s easy to do, because it’s already been done. We praised it then, and we’ll praise it again.
In that spirit, we have been actively urging Republican leaders to work with members on their specific policy riders that we will also praise because they will accomplish good things for taxpayers.
One we think is very promising was offered by U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a rider from the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Appropriations Bill. It would defund implementation of a regulation by HUD to condition $3.4 billion of community development block grants on redrawing neighborhoods along racial and income guidelines.
HUD is basically saying that communities are segregated because some houses cost more than others and so they want to “mix” the neighborhoods up more with low-income housing. The department ignores the fact that zoning only determines what can be built, not who will ultimately buy or rent property there. That’s what markets and individuals do. HUD wants to circumvent those local zoning decisions by using the block grants to force communities to build the low-income housing units where HUD deems appropriate.
The Gosar rider passed the House in 2014 and in 2015. Now that the rule has been finalized, about 1,200 counties and cities that accept the funds are in HUD’s crosshairs. These are racial and income zoning quotas, a vast overreach and takeover of local governments, and Congress does not need to fund it. Nor should it.
There are other riders. Dozens, scores, even hundreds.
Congress should fight against Obama’s regulatory assault on the coal industry by defunding implementation of the new and existing power plants rules.
It could disarm the administration’s sue and settle racket, where an organization sues the agency trying to force it to enforce the law in some new, expanded way, and the agency agrees to settle the lawsuit, with its newfound powers granted with judicial imprimatur.
It could stop legal settlements from awarding monies to third party groups that are not even parties of the suit, so-called consumer advocacy groups and others who are awarded millions of dollars just because they had a political connection at the Justice Department.
It could stop the assault on the First Amendment by the IRS, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice.
And it goes on and on. You get the point.
But conservative lawmakers need to be willing to offer their votes for the omnibus to maximize what can be accomplished. For every Democrat House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell need to pass the omnibus, the fewer good policy riders Republicans will get, and the worse the bill will be.
And Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell must be willing to engage with members when they are approached. If there’s no possibility to include riders that make the omnibus more palatable, why should members vote for it?
As it stands, with little more than year left in Obama’s term, the omnibus spending bill represents the last, best chance to stop some major parts of his agenda. We realize it won’t stop everything, but we sure hope it stops some things. We look forward to seeing what Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell can come up with, and offer the American people policy defunds that are praiseworthy.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.