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K Street eyes spending bills to stop Obama

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Industry and trade associations are counting on spending bills in Congress to help them beat back a slew of Obama administration regulations.

Republican lawmakers have included language to block funding for a host of new rules in appropriations bills, and many of the provisions could survive in an overarching omnibus bill funding the government later this year.

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Legislation passed by the House Appropriations Committee would nix or postpone controversial regulations on everything from school nutrition standards to the disclosure of corporate political giving to carbon emissions from power plants.

The agriculture appropriations bill even aims to ban horsemeat by prohibiting federal dollars from being used to inspect facilities that slaughter the animals. 

With the Senate having failed to pass any appropriations bills, a stopgap funding effort — known as a continuing resolution — appears likely to fund the government until after the election.

“Putting new items in a CR [continuing resolution] is something that is difficult to achieve,” said one former aide to both the House and Senate Appropriations panels. “If there is a really strong argument for including something in a CR, they will, but it's a hard hill to climb. Appropriators like clean bills.”

After the stopgap bill, the real action on a final budget deal will begin.

With the help of high-powered K Street lobbyists, industry groups will be pushing Congress to address their pet issue in a spending agreement.

Provisions that were already included in the appropriations bills could be revived at that stage — but only if both parties agree to them.

Democrats are unlikely to accept many of the provisions from the House appropriations bills, including the ones that aim to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits on carbon emissions — rules that are the centerpiece of President Obama’s second-term agenda.

Republicans are also fighting an EPA rule they say unduly expands the EPA’s authority over streams and other smaller bodies of water. Farmers and ranchers have said the rule could be devastating to their businesses.

“This is a way to limit the EPA’s definition of what constitute the Waters of the United States,” said Don Parrish, director of regulations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, who said he has lobbied both Republicans and Democrats on the issue.

“We see this as a huge issue and something that will have significant implications on farmers and ranchers,” he said.

Regulations coming out of the Interior Department are also facing resistance from Congress. The Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) controversial ivory ban could be in jeopardy, for instance, if lawmakers approve a provision in the House’s Interior appropriations bill that blocks the rules.

Musicians and gun rights groups have assailed the ivory rules as threatening the lawful sale and use of antiques.

Lawmakers are also likely to clash over tweaks to the Obama administration’s school nutrition rules. The House Appropriations panel has approved a one-year exemption to the standards for some schools. 

“I think it’s pretty clear that this is meant as a temporary fix, and there will be efforts to extend it permanently,” said Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which supports the nutrition rules.

Wootan said the amendment to the appropriations bill was offered at the urging of the School Nutrition Association, a group that represents school meal program operators throughout the country.

“If Congress is able to pass the [agriculture] appropriations bill or an omnibus bill — we still have some work to do to ensure that the provision to waive the school lunch standards isn’t included,” she said.

Language in a Senate appropriations bill that would ease some of the lunch standards is seen as a compromise between the White House and Republicans.

“I think this issue is way too visible and politically charged to end up in a CR,” Wootan said, adding that if it does get mentioned, it is more likely to mirror the Senate language.

The School Nutrition Association, which at first partnered with the White House on its initiative to get kids to eat healthier, argues that some of the regulations are impractical and go too far. 

They worry the standards to cut sugar, sodium and infuse meal programs with whole grains could unintentionally push students to seek unhealthy food off campus.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the organization said the group is “hopeful” that language easing the rules will make it into a final spending bill. 

“We are continuing to talk to all members of congress about these issues and trying to educate them on the challenges that their constituents are facing,” she said.

Lawmakers have for years used “policy riders” in appropriations bills to block funding for specific regulations. For many groups, the riders are their last, best hope for stopping a rule and avoiding the heavy cost of fighting the government in court. 

While the continuing resolution is typically free of the “riders,” appropriators had to deal with more than 130 of them in last year’s omnibus package. 

That deal prevented several regulations from getting off the ground. The National Labor Relations Board, for instance, was barred from implementing e-Card Check regulations for unions, while another provision stopped a ban on incandescent light bulbs. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) said it’s confident that language prohibiting funding for the inspection of horse slaughterhouses will make it through Congress. 

“Members in both sides of the aisle are passionately in support of a ban [on the horse slaughtering], and we’re confident that this support has only increased since the threat of plants opening last year,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA government relations.

The ban had been attached to annual appropriations bills for years, until the language disappeared in 2011. Last year, several slaughterhouses applied for approval from the USDA to operate in the United States.

There is also a lawsuit and stand-alone legislation to prevent horse slaughter, but Perry says the ASPCA is “playing it safe” by trying to have the provision inserted into the spending bill.