Last Friday, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through the end of the year. In it, they slash funding for key liberal priorities while blocking Obama administration efforts to enforce key regulations. The funding bill has yet to go through the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a legislative impasse between the two parties could lead to a government shutdown. But there's already plenty to be frustrated about. Here's a by-no-means comprehensive list of five things to hate about H.R.1:
Comprehensive Gitmo Ban. Congress tried to put a ban on transfers of Guantánamo Bay detainees for trial to the U.S. in December's war funding bill, but the American Civil Liberties Union noted a loophole. The ban only applied to Department of Defense funds, not federal funds in general, meaning that if the administration so desired, it could bring Gitmo detainees to the U.S. for criminal trial escorted by say, federal marshals. The text of the continuing resolution extends the ban to all federal funds appropriated by the bill. Despite President Barack Obama's promise to veto legislation if it "undermines national security," he was more likely talking about funding for defense projects than Gitmo. It's too bad, since closing Gitmo would not only aid national security, it would be fiscally responsible. It costs American taxpayers $150 million a year to keep the facility open, and the administration says it would cost half as much to hold detainees stateside. But as long as the GOP remains petrified of Muslim Heat Vision, this is a route to slashing government they're too scared to take.
Defunding the Affordable Care Act. A series of amendments adopted by Republicans in the continuing resolution attempt to defund implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Steve King of Iowa sponsored amendments that block the necessary department funds for implementation and prevent any of the funds in the resolution from being used to pay the salaries of government workers charged with carrying out the law's provisions. Rep. Daniel Rehberg of Montana sponsored an amendment that blocks funds from being used "to pay any employee, officer, contractor, or grantee of any department or agency to implement the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri targeted the individual mandate, sponsoring an amendment prohibiting the funds in the legislation from being used to enforce it. An amendment from Rep. Cory Gardner of Ohio prohibits federal employees from working on the health-insurance exchanges, while Georgia Rep. Tom Price's amendment blocks implementation of the section of the law that defines minimum benefits and limits out-of-pocket charges. Republicans have their usual priorities in order -- while doing their best to prevent the Obama administration from ensuring Americans have health-care coverage, Republicans didn't offer any alternatives to the 32 million Americans who would be left uninsured without the ACA. According to Politico, Republicans don't expect the amendments to make it through the Senate but to act as "bargaining chips" to force Democrats to trade away other priorities.
Bailing out for-profit colleges. In the wake of thousands of students leaving for-profit colleges with mountains of debt and little in the way of bankable skills, the Obama administration proposed new regulations that would restrict the use of federal student financial assistance for institutions of higher education that are supposed to prepare students for "gainful employment in recognized occupations." The idea is to lock out those institutions that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said leave students with "debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use." The CR however, contains an amendment that blocks funds for the rule's implementation. As Mike Elk reported in The American Prospect earlier this year, "Students enrolled in for-profit schools represent just 10 percent of all postsecondary students in the United States but account for 44 percent of all student-loan defaults." Women, low-income students, and minorities are disproportionately affected by this new debt-manufacturing industry. Veterans have lined the pockets of the for-profit college industry to the tune of $521 million in military tuition assistance, in exchange for education of questionable value. This one can't just be laid at the feet of Republicans, either. While most Democrats voted against the measure, in the tradition of morally bankrupt corporatist Washington "bipartisanship," Sharona Coutts at ProPublica reports that two Democrats received generous contributions from the for-profit college industry, Reps. Alcee Hastings of Florida and Carolyn McCarthy of New York co-sponsored the amendment.
Targeting Planned Parenthood. On Friday, notwithstanding the eloquent testimonies of legislators like Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and Rep. Jackie Spier of California, the House adopted Indiana Rep. Mike Pence's amendment denying funds to Planned Parenthood. Abortion is only a small part of what Planned Parenthood does. According to the organization's records, only 3 percent of its operations go to performing abortions, while fully 84 percent goes to contraception and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and cancer. Despite the fact that the Hyde Amendment prevents tax dollars from funding Planned Parenthood's abortion services, conservatives have long targeted the group anyway -- most recently through a series of videos falsely purporting to show the organization abetting underage sex trafficking. The continuing resolution also defunds Title X, the only source of government funding for family-planning services, effectively denying large numbers of low-income women their only access to health-care services. The Guttmacher Institute concludes that nearly six out of 10 women who obtain care at a family-planning center consider it their primary source of care.
The Dirty Air Act. Having managed to solidify Republican opposition to cap-and-trade -- once considered the conservative, market-oriented solution to curbing carbon emissions -- Republicans are now aiming at the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases and everything else related to pollution. The resolution prevents the EPA from using any federal funds to regulate anything other than emissions standards for automobiles. It does so even if you don't count an amendment from Texas Reps. Ted Poe, Joe Barton, and John Carter forbidding the use of funds to enforce the regulation of greenhouse gases, or the mess of Republican amendments curtailing the EPA's ability to keep water clean and air breathable. As written, the resolution leaves Americans vulnerable to what Mother Jones' Jaeah Lee calls the GOP's "carpet bombing" of environmental protection. The irony, as David Roberts of Grist points out, is that cap-and-trade's demise notwithstanding, there's a great deal of public support for the EPA's authority to regulate clean-air standards.
It's possible that not all of these things will make it through to the final bill -- Senate Democrats have promised to restore Title X funding, for example -- but Republicans are certainly negotiating from a position of strength.