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Policy Riders, Amount of Spending Cuts Tie Up Budget Proposal

Policy Riders, Amount of Spending Cuts Tie Up Budget Proposal

March 30, 2011 — While Congress continues debating a spending bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, contentious social policy issues -- including measures to unravel environmental regulations and to cut funding for the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) and Planned Parenthood -- have become as much of a "stumbling block" as the scale of spending cuts, the New York Times reports (Steinhauer, New York Times, 3/29).

The House-approved continuing resolution (HR 1) for FY 2011 eliminates funding for the Title X family planning program, which helps provide family planning and reproductive health services to low-income women, including contraceptive counseling and supplies, pelvic exams, breast and cervical cancer screening, safer-sex counseling and basic infertility counseling. The continuing resolution also includes an amendment, introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/29).

According to the Times, another controversial policy rider, known as the Dornan amendment, was repealed in 2009 and reinstated in H.R. 1. This provision prohibits the District of Columbia from using its own funds to pay for abortion services. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the D.C. amendment, as well as Pence's proposal to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funds are top priorities. "I think most Americans overwhelmingly say we ought not to be spending taxpayer dollars for abortion," he said, adding, "I think that pretty much says where most of Americans are and where most of our members are."

Kevin Smith, a spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said, "The speaker has been clear with the White House and Senate leadership that the House-passed bill, which includes significant policy provisions, is our starting position."

Many Senate Democrats say that some riders -- particularly efforts to defund Planned Parenthood -- are "dead on arrival," according to the Times. However, Senate Democrats vary on their willingness to negotiate. "We're happy to look at the policy riders," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Tuesday, adding, "There aren't many of them that excite me. But we're willing to look at them. In fact, we've already started looking at some of the policy riders." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said that the Senate would reject the funding cuts for Planned Parenthood.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated the Obama administration's opposition to the riders, saying, "[T]his is a funding bill and a budget bill, and it’s not the place for extraneous ideological or political policy to be addressed" (New York Times, 3/29).

Lawmakers Dispute Over How Deep Spending Cuts Should Go

In addition to the controversy over the policy riders, Boehner said an agreement has not been reached on the level of spending cuts, CQ Today reports. "There are a lot of numbers that have been discussed and thrown around. The fact is that there is not an agreement on a number" for spending cuts, he said at a news conference on Tuesday, adding, "Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to."

Reid on Tuesday said that Democrats and Republicans are divided over about $6 billion in spending cuts.

According to CQ Today, reaching a compromise on some policy riders could ease budget negotiations and allow GOP leaders to claim some "measure of legislative victory" even if they were to compromise on the level of spending cuts (Young, CQ Today, 3/29).