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Appropriations Trickery in Congress

It is an old congressional ritual: loading up vital spending bills that are meant to keep the government running with dangerous amendments aimed at satisfying ideological causes and benefiting special interests.

The Republicans have become adept at this practice in recent years, and this year is no different. Legislative riders attached to appropriations bills would undermine the Iran nuclear deal, weaken highway safety and reduce the Food and Drug Administration’s authority over tobacco products.

These measures would be unlikely to succeed as stand-alone bills, either because they could not get enough votes on their own or because President Obama would veto them. So better to sneak them in without even holding hearings to make a case on their behalf.

Thankfully, Democratic lawmakers and public interest groups are calling attention to these stealth attacks. In the Senate, Democrats managed on Wednesday to block a vote on a water and energy spending bill after Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, tried to attach a provision that would have dealt a severe blow to the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Cotton’s measure would have blocked the administration from purchasing heavy water used in Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran has to get rid of the water to comply with the deal. By denying Iran an American market, Mr. Cotton and other Republicans hoped to undermine the deal, which they hate.

The Senate will soon consider a transportation bill containing a rider that could prevent the Department of Transportation from reinstating a rule aimed at making roads safer by requiring that truckers get adequate rest — two nights of rest after working 60 hours over seven consecutive days or 70 hours over eight consecutive days.

The rule took effect in July 2013, but it was suspended by Congress in December 2014. The rider bars the administration from reinstating the rule unless it can show that it produced a “statistically significant” improvement in safety and driver health during the brief time it was in place.

That is a ridiculously high burden to meet. If the provision becomes law, it will be impossible for the government to issue basic regulations to make sure compa…..

And the House Appropriations Committee recently passed an agriculture and food spending bill that would make it very hard for the F.D.A. to regulate tobacco products. A rider attached in committee would forbid the agency from regulating “large and premium cigars”; another would rewrite a 2009 law that gave the agency the authority to approve or reject tobacco products that have entered the market after Feb. 15, 2007. This would include electronic cigarettes, for which the agency has proposed regulations.

To prevent the agency from taking e-cigarettes off the market and effectively grandfather them in, Republican lawmakers want to require pre-approval only for products that come out after the F.D.A. issues its final e-cigarette rules, which could be later this year. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the devices are now more popular than conventional cigarettes with middle- and high-school students.

Riders like these are not harmless passengers on legislative vehicles. They can and will do real damage if they are allowed to succeed.

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