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As government shutdown looms, lawmakers squabbling over policy, not pork

Time was, an 11th-hour omnibus spending bill to avoid a government shutdown was an invitation for members of Congress to push through pork projects. This year the tussle is over policy riders.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday.

Susan Walsh/AP

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In Congresses of yesteryear, the 11th-hour, must-pass omnibus spending bill typically set off a spike in earmarks or member projects to grease the deal, adding billions to federal deficits.

But the 1,219-page, $1 trillion spending package released by House leaders late Wednesday night is making waves not for its pork projects, but for its member-driven policy riders on issues ranging from travel to Cuba and the funding of abortions to marketing food to children.

The House GOP bill, which was formulated based on ongoing conference negotiations but not yet signed, wraps up the nine remaining annual appropriation bills. Meanwhile, negotiators continue working toward a “megabus” that could pass the Senate.

It’s these policy riders, not the bottom-line spending, that have been the main sticking point in passing the bills needed to keep the government from shutting down. Like member earmarks, the aim of riders is to force on the White House a policy that the president would not otherwise support, using annual funding as leverage.

Senate Democrats have fought hard to derail most of the policy riders in the “megabus”, especially those aiming to curb environmental regulations. But there’s a bumper crop still in the omnibus bill released by House leaders late Wednesday night.

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