Hidden Riders

Article excerpt

Hopefully, most Americans learned that there are two kinds of bills in Congress: authorizing and appropriation. Authorizing bills lay out the laws of the land. Appropriation ("approps") bills fund authorized projects or the federal agencies that put our laws to work.

Congress has two voting opportunities to kill a bill. It can reject an authorizing bill on its merits, or, less honorably, it can refuse to fund the bill it has just passed. The 104th and 105th Congresses have championed, with a shameless enthusiasm, an even less upstanding strategem: attach authorizing legislation onto an approps bills where it can hide and "ride" within an otherwise acceptable spending bill.

Approps riders are typically political patronage projects (like a road through a national park) or legislation so unpopular that it would easily fail as stand-alone laws (e.g., postponing all new listings of endangered species). By burying them in an approps, Congress can avoid public discussion, committee hearings, attentive viewers of CSPAN, and press attention. Riders appear and disappear so fast and jump bills so swimmingly that citizens can't find them, let alone debate their implications or contact their congressional representatives. But, best of all, they allow a member of Congress to vote for the rider with a plaintive wail: "We had to pass the appropriations bill. We had to take the bad with the good."

Rider aficionados hunt out bills with deep emotional puissance. When Americans want to help fellow citizens in trouble (like the families of the Oklahoma City bombing or flood victims), then the emergency funding bill transmogrifies from compassionate aid to the slickest, most cagey venue to sneak in a stealth rider. Or, wait until Congress is just ready to call it a year and the Omnibus Bill comes along with all the items Congress forgot to fund. It's easy to lose a rider in any approps bill, but Omnibus Bills are especially pudding stone. Or, as in 1996, wait until the government has no money. During the panic, tuck your rider in a "continuing resolution," which is needed to keep Congress and the rest of the beltway humming.

Here's a wee taste from the pork barrel:

* The Senate interior Appropriations Bill included: the Izembek "Golden Gravel" Road rider, which authorizes the first road through wilderness area; the Tongass National Forest rider which overrides any sustainable logging program; the National Forest Planning rider which de-funds (stops) al (forest plan revisions; the Grazing on Public Lands rider which re-issues grazing permits without environmental review; the Trees-for-stewardship rider which requires that restoration be funded by logging more trees; the Land Acquisition rider which stops the purchasing of inholdings surrounded by public lands in Alaska; the Oil Royalties Rule which exempts the industry from a rule requiring it to pay $86 million in royalties; the Snow Basin Road rider which mandates $14 million for a three-mile road to a ski condo; the Glacier Bay rider which prevents the phasing out of illegal commercial fishing; and a half dozen more which prevent management of salmon and the spotted owl, and block reintroduction of grizzlies in Idaho and Montana.

* In the 104th, Congress tacked a "salvage rider" onto an emergency bill to help Midwestern flood victims. it exempted thousands of acres of old growth from all Forest Service procedures, locked out public input, and nurtured a spasm of togging without any of the laws.

* The 1996 government shutdown occurred, in part, because Congress tacked so many anti-environmental riders on an appropriations bill that the President refused to sign it. in private, without public debate or knowledge, the administration and Congress horse-traded some riders into law and took others out.

* Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) wanted to help developers in new Albuquerque suburbs by widening the highway through Petroglyph National Monument. …