The looming debt ceiling crisis hasn’t prevented some lawmakers from losing focus on other legislative priorities, like eliminating a sunburn awareness program and blocking federal agencies from writing songs.
With the Interior-EPA 2012 spending bill on the House floor and no final vote in sight, GOP lawmakers have seized the opportunity to try to block agency programs both large and small.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, for example, has an amendment that would halt funding for the EPA’s SunWise program, which teaches schoolchildren about the dangers of overexposure to the sun.
The Tennessee Republican has filed a separate amendment to prohibit the National Park Service from maintaining the residence of any former U.S. president — unless the United States holds the unconditional fee title.
The rider is intended to block taxpayer funds from going toward the maintenance of former President Jimmy Carter’s Plains, Ga., home, according to Blackburn’s office.
Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold wants to block the government from taking any action to reduce the legal speed limit in Padre Island National Seashore. The superintendent of the seashore last year announced a reduced seasonal speed limit in some areas to protect nesting sea turtles.
New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce is hoping to prohibit the EPA from writing or developing any rules or guidance unless the agency is basing that rule on “hard” science.
Federal agencies funded under the act also wouldn’t be able to “develop, create or carry out” any song under an amendment from Ohio Republican Rep. Bill Johnson.
A Johnson aide wasn’t immediately available to comment on the purpose for the amendment, but the EPA came under fire recently from Senate Republican John Barrasso who cited a rap song about climate change as an example of frivolous spending.
The EPA also advertises on its website a song to teach kids about sun safety.
Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts accused Republicans of failing to take the spending bill seriously.
“If you look at all these amendments, you’d have to conclude that House Republicans want kids to get more sunburns … and there should be no music,” said Markey, the ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee. “At such a serious time in America, these are not serious proposals from House Republicans.”
To be sure, Republicans aren’t the only ones offering parochial riders. New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt, for example, offered an amendment to block funding for oil and natural gas leasing and related activities in the North and Mid-Atlantic.
Still, it's Republicans who are more eager to tack on riders to block Obama administration priorities, and they’re more likely to get them passed in the GOP-led House.
About 200 amendments had been filed to the Interior-EPA bill earlier this week, with about 30 from Democrats, according to a Democratic Appropriations Committee aide. It’s unclear of course, which if any of the amendments will actually be offered and voted on.
House GOP Appropriations Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said allowing members to offer amendments is a core democratic principle and the very nature of "open rules" — the traditional way appropriations measures are considered on the floor.
“While this may take more time, this process allows the views of members and those they represent to be heard, which is good for this institution and the country, and ultimately produces better and more bipartisan legislation,” she said.
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 7:02 p.m. on July 28, 2011.
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