Spending fight escalates with release of labor, health bill

The chances for a protracted government spending battle this fall went up dramatically on Thursday when House appropriators released a labor and health spending bill filled with at least 40 new controversial policy provisions.

The bill, produced by appropriator Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and not scheduled for a markup, will serve as a marker in negotiations over funding the government after the Senate-passed continuing resolution runs out Nov. 18.

In addition to defunding key elements of Obama’s healthcare reform and Planned Parenthood, it also defunds NPR, limits appropriations for public broadcasting and defunds President Obama’s signature Race to the Top school grants initiative.

Democrats and union representatives do not see the draft bill, which contains numerous anti-union provisions, becoming law. But they do see it dragging out the 2012 appropriations process possibly for months.

“It looks like we’re in for a long, difficult process,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations labor subcommittee said.

 “[T]he Rehberg draft injects a whole host of new, contentious legislative issues into the process—most of them quite extraneous to the task at hand of setting funding levels for federal agencies and programs for the upcoming fiscal year,” she said.

Bill Samuel, the legislative director of the AFL-CIO said unions believe the bill is dead in the Senate but are nonetheless gearing up to prevent any provisions from ending up in a final omnibus spending package.

“I don’t think the Senate will pass any of these. This is political theater. What it may mean is a delay in getting appropriations wrapped up,” he said.

The bill ends NLRB protections for workers in small businesses, and blocks pending regulations on pension managers and wages for temporary workers.

“This reads like a fundraising letter from the National Right to Work Committee,” he said. “It is meant to excite their bases and has nothing to do with what businesses are facing right now.”

He said the NLRB rules are “very modest” and the GOP was responding to “manufactured hysteria” by Washington business groups.

Samuel said the policy provisions are in the bill to placate conservatives who cannot support the overall level of funding in the bill. This may make them difficult to sideline in negotiations with the Senate.