Providing adequate and consistent funding for the Hanford cleanup is paramount to improving progress and worker safety at the site. In recent years, partisan gamesmanship gridlocked Congress and while politicians were posturing, the Department of Energy offices and contractors responsible for the project were handcuffed waiting to see if their budgets might be tens or hundreds of millions less than expected.
It appeared that this year would be different.
Although not everyone involved was thrilled with the level of Hanford funding included in the House of Representative’s Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, at least it appeared the bill was destined for passage. Soon Hanford agencies, contractors, and this community start planning for the future with some certainty.
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Months of negotiations went up in smoke Thursday when the appropriations bill failed by a large margin, 305-112.
It appears many House Republicans pulled their support when a last minute amendment was added strengthening the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. It also appears many Democrats pulled their support because of last minute amendments related to North Carolina bathrooms and the Iranian nuclear treaty.
It’s difficult to understand the linkage between funding for Hanford cleanup and which bathrooms transgender people use in North Carolina. It’s impossible to understand, actually, because there is none.
Last minute riders on topics unrelated to the program spending bills area frequently used tool to advance legislation that doesn’t stand a chance on its own. It’s a form of political extortion that has contributed to the gridlock and ultimately the public rebellion evidenced by the Sanders and Trump campaigns.
The process has been used to our benefit. The creation of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park, for instance, was an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. But as a whole, the practice has been detrimental to the image and efficiency of Congress.
As expected, both parties blame the other for Thursday’s collapse. They’re both right.
The amendments were not addressing new issues. The reason they were last-minute amendments is because the proponents thought they could slip in the language and opponents wouldn’t want to kill an important piece of legislation that many worked so hard to craft.
It’s a clever approach that is common practice.
We think it’s sneaky and it should end.
According to one news report, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said he didn’t think the animosity between the parties after Thursday’s failure will prevent future spending bills from being passed this session but it might be necessary to close down the open amendment process.
Supporters believe the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill will be brought back to the floor soon and will pass.
We hope so, and we hope Rep. Rogers is right.