WASHINGTON -- While the early debate over the budget that will fund the government through the end of September has been centered around whether House Republicans or Senate Democrats will budge on one set of cuts or another, officials close to the negotiations are growing increasingly concerned that an attached set of controversial spending limits could be the sticking point that yields a federal shutdown.
Embedded in the continuing resolution passed by the House of Representatives are dozens of riders that prohibit the funding of major pieces of legislation, organizations and even subsections of agencies. Among the targeted subsidies include those for Planned Parenthood, the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature health care law, and power plant regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency.
None of these provisions went unnoticed or even under the radar. When they passed through the House, they earned loud headlines, condemnation from those affected and the expectation that Senate Democrats would strip them out in the final set of negotiations. As one top Senate Democratic aide told The Huffington Post: "Our side believes that any measure that keeps the government running should be clean of extraneous legislating."
But removing them from the final package won't be entirely easy. In fact, it may prove far harder than simply finding a numerical level of cuts that would satisfy both political parties.
Taking out the rider that defunds Planned Parenthood, for instance, means risking the votes of anti-abortion lawmakers in the House. Taking the implementation of Obama's health care law off the table invites the ire of Tea Party-affiliated members. In a statement that suggested leadership would be open to getting rid of some riders, a top GOP aide said that "if the White House believes that all of the riders will come out they are living in La La land."
But keeping the most controversial language in the bill is dream-world politics too, as the votes simply don't exist in the Senate and White House officials made clear Thursday that they want the CR cleared.
"We think the focus should be on how to cut spending in a way that is smart for the economy in the short term and the long term, and that no one should get that core mission derailed by focusing on any political or ideological side matters," said top Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling.
The balancing act falls on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). On Thursday, he and other congressional leaders met with Vice President Joe Biden to chart out a compromise on a funding resolution. All parties agreed not to discuss the issues brought up during the meeting, but one top aide acknowledged that "each side is aware of [riders] being an issue."
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