Quietly and behind the scenes, gun regulations often stymied by spending bill riders
WASHINGTON — Each year, lawmakers quietly tuck language into spending bills that restricts the ability of the federal government to regulate the firearms industry and combat gun crime.
It's the reason the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can't research gun violence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation can't use data to detect firearms traffickers, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can't require background checks on older guns.
Since the late 1970s, more than a dozen provisions have been added to must-pass spending bills with no hearings, no debate and no vote, in a way that's designed to circumvent the usual legislative process.
Most of the recent talk about firearms has focused on a package of high-profile bills in the Senate. But as President Obama readies his first budget since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 26 dead, including 20 children, some advocates are urging him — largely behind the scenes — to delete the language that has been pushed by the powerful gun lobby in his spending plan to be released Sunday.
“It's not as well-known,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., who spearheaded an effort by members of Congress to send Obama a letter and introduced a bill to repeal some provisions. “But this is an inherent problem. It makes enforcement nearly impossible.”
Congress has approved stand-alone bills on firearms before, but as Capitol Hill becomes more acrimonious, lawmakers have attached measures to other bills.
But these days many policies that loosen gun laws appear in spending legislation, generally the annual appropriations bill for the commerce, justice and science agencies. Congress usually approves the bills with bipartisan support and the president signs the legislation into law. Once the so-called riders are in, they are difficult to get out, all but ensuring they remain in, year after year, no matter which party controls Congress and the White House.
Just last month, Congress made four of the temporary provisions permanent when it overwhelmingly approved a six-month funding bill to keep the government open. It was part of a deal struck last year between the Republican-run House of Representatives and Democratic-controlled Senate before the Newtown massacre, according to those familiar with the discussions.
The National Rifle Association, the nation's most powerful gun rights organization, says the provisions merely correct oversteps in regulatory authority and that a slew of measures on other seemingly random issues also have been tacked onto spending bills.