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Contentious Style Will Continue in Congress

This kind of attitude will be magnified in the coming battles over fiscal 2012 appropriations. Six of the 12 bills have made it through the House, with one, military construction and Veterans Affairs, also through the Senate. Some of the big ones have not begun to move seriously through the body — including Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Another big one, financial services and general government appropriations, has moved through the House committee and will before long hit the floor.

Then there is Interior and environment, which is a good case study to examine as a wave of the near future. As the Washington Post’s Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin report, House Republicans added 40 or more riders to the bill, which “would stop the enforcement of water quality standards, abolish rules that protect streams from surface mining, gut a budget to acquire and protect pristine forestland, and slice a portion of money used to operate national parks.”

The riders are designed to defenestrate the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental bodies and regulations put in place over the past few decades. The Land and Water Conservation Fund? Cut by 80 percent. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act? Cut 58 percent. Other riders are designed to block the Interior Secretary from implementing environmental laws and regulations.

The Senate, of course, will probably get around to its own version of the Interior appropriations measure, as it will with the other 10 bills. And it is safe to say that it will take a very different tack — likely without any of those 40 riders, or at least with much more modest cuts in programs.

The differences get ironed out in conference — or don’t. If they don’t by the start of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1, either funding stops entirely or Congress passes a continuing resolution (remember the term “continuing resolution”? It was in the news a lot earlier in the year.)

Now consider the Labor and HHS and the financial services bills. The House Republicans will use those to push other goals, namely, gutting the health care and financial regulatory overhauls enacted in 2010. And the Senate, it is safe to say, will balk.

Will the differences be worked out?

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) got his gavel by promising to out-tea-party the tea partyites. House Republicans, having failed to get everything they wanted in the debt limit showdown, will see appropriations bills as another way to gain leverage to accomplish their goals.

Maybe we will see another last-minute compromise like the one on the continuing resolution for fiscal 2011 — but recall that that deal did not leave House Republicans feeling triumphant after the details of Boehner’s compromise were revealed.

This time, deals will be harder to come by. So prepare for what might be a series of new Perils of Pauline exercises, with the possibility of partial shutdowns of agencies such as HHS and the Securities and Exchange Commission, among others.

It is very likely that confrontation and showdowns will remain the norm for the next year and a half. At least.

Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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