Budget negotiations no longer about the budget

It’s been a long and hard week for embattled House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Caught between a rock and a hard place and negotiating against his political best interests to kowtow to the extremists in his party who are determined to shut down the government, Boehner has allowed the budget debate to move from spending cuts to extreme policy riders that have little to do with budgeting.

Negotiations have stalled over policy riders regarding “women’s health and clean air,” says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). This is problematic for Boehner. He’s trying to achieve historic spending cuts and avert a government shutdown — having told his members that “Democrats will win” if the government closes its doors. Yet he can’t deter the extremists from insisting on including extreme policy riders to block air pollution standards and other items in the CR.

What is more unseemly is that even after suffering a major defeat in their war on clean air in the Senate, Republicans continue to push the riders as a way of circumventing the will of the people expressed in the defeat of four provisions that would have prevented limits on carbon pollution. Senate Republicans achieved only 50 votes on one proposal, 10 votes short of passing anything, but declared they were winning. But they’ve forgotten that they spent the last several years redefining a majority vote in the Senate from 51 to 60 votes. This means they share the same definition of winning as Charlie Sheen.

The House budget negotiators’ push to roll back the Clean Air Act ignores public opinion that supports action to reduce air pollution and opposes congressional interference in the matter. These extreme budget riders are out of step with what Americans want and demonstrate how out of touch some in Congress are when it comes to clean air and public health.

For example, a February 2011 poll released by the American Lung Association found that 69 percent of voters think the EPA should update the Clean Air Act standards; 75 percent of voters support stricter limits on mercury, smog and carbon dioxide; 68 percent of voters oppose congressional action that impedes the EPA from updating clean air standards generally; and 64 percent oppose congressional efforts to stop the EPA from updating standards on carbon dioxide.

The EPA estimated that clean air regulations saved more than 160,000 lives in 2010 alone, including the lives of 230 infants. Scientists believe that in 2020, the Clean Air Act will save 230,000 American lives — including the lives of 280 infants.

John Boehner has to force himself to look beyond these facts to placate the inexperienced and determined Tea Party faction. He has to make a choice today between placating the extremists or doing the right thing for the rest of his party, and more important, the country, by dropping the insistence on extreme policy riders on the budget bill.


David Di Martino is CEO of Blue Line Strategic Communications Inc. The views expressed in this blog are his and do not necessarily represent Blue Line’s. Follow David: @bluelinedd.