Air Date: Week of September 11, 1998
Congress is back facing several spending bills that are loaded with unrelated or special interest provisions called "riders." This year, some Republicans have attached dozens of riders relating to the environment. These provisions could become law without debate. The Clinton Administration has attacked the riders as "backdoor" efforts to undermine environmental protection, and in an ordinary political year, would try to eliminate them with threatened vetoes. But this is not an ordinary year, and with the Presidency in deep crisis over Mr. Clinton's sexual affair with a young employee, the White House may be hampered in its fight over the environment. Host Steve Curwood asked Alan Freedman, who covers Congress for Congressional Quarterly, to describe the range of this year's environmental riders.
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Congress is back, and it faces several spending bills that are loaded with unrelated or special interest provisions called riders. Now, this year, some Republicans have attached dozens of riders relating to the environment, and these provisions could become law without debate. The Clinton Administration has attacked the riders as back door efforts to undermine environmental protection, and, in an ordinary political year, would try to eliminate them with threatened vetoes. But this is not an ordinary political year, and with the Presidency in deep crisis over Mr. Clinton's sexual affair with a young employee, the White House may not be able to fight over the environment. I asked Alan Freedman, who covers Congress for Congressional Quarterly, to describe the range of this year's environmental riders.
FREEDMAN: You have everything from a prohibition of implementation of the Kyoto Accord, which was agreed to last year by the United States, to a moratorium, a delay in cleanups of PCBs, to a rider in the Interior Appropriations Bill that would prevent the reintroduction of the grizzly bear in Idaho and Montana. It's really quite an extraordinary number of riders and breathtaking in its diversity. This is really the greatest number of riders that I've seen in recent years.
CURWOOD: Now, is this an organized posse of riders, or are these sort of individual, little enterprise things by individual Republican politicians?
FREEDMAN: They're more individual in nature, and they tend to be what we call rifle shot attempts. You see the Kyoto Accord is a very broad policy issue; that really is one of the most high-profile ones. But a lot of these other riders are fairly narrow in scope, and in that sense they contrast to what happened a few years ago, which was attempts at broad reforms or a broad rollback of environmental legislation.
CURWOOD: Let's talk about that big, broad one: the Kyoto Accord. What is it that the House and Senate want to do, and what do you think the White House will do?
FREEDMAN: The rider itself is actually very simple. It basically says that the EPA can't go ahead and the White House can't go ahead and implement the Kyoto agreement. This has been a real priority for the Gore/Clinton Administration over the last year. They have had a number of public appearances pushing the agreement. And by all accounts they will likely fight very hard for this one and try to get this language out of the appropriation bill. I would think that this would be the one they would fight hardest for.
CURWOOD: Now, this works because these bills, these riders, are attached to money bills, and if the money bills don't pass the agencies and -- in this case, it's what? Interior and EPA?
FREEDMAN: That's right. There are two primary appropriation bills. One is the appropriation or funding bill that deals with the Environmental Protection Agency. The other is a separate funding bill that deals with the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and a few other land agencies.
CURWOOD: And so, if these riders aren't enacted along with the money for these departments, those departments stop functioning. Do you think the Republicans are willing to go to the... They did this in 1995. They shut down portions of the government. Do you think they'll do it over such things as, what, logging in the Tongass National Forest, or prohibiting funds for reintroducing grizzly bears?
FREEDMAN: I don't know if it's going to go to a shutdown. I think most people would say probably not. It's going to be, as one aide said to me today, it's going to be a test of manhood, essentially. It's going to be literally about 5 people sitting in a room across from each other and staring down each other, and whoever is tougher, whoever thinks that he -- this is primarily men negotiating this, after all -- whoever thinks he has the political will to prevail will really win. You have some very tough adversaries here. Ted Stevens will be in the room. He's the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He's known as one of the toughest negotiators on Capitol Hill. Slade Gorton is also a very tough negotiator. He's the chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. And the question it comes down to is: how strong will the White House be in 2 or 3 weeks? What you sense right now is that everybody knows that Bill Clinton is weak. When people sense weakness in a negotiation, that's an extraordinary advantage. And these riders are going to be a great test of where the President's and the White House's political strength is following the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Alan Freedman reports for Congressional Quarterly in Washington. Thank you.
FREEDMAN: Thank you.
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