Fat possums in the budget deal

If you’re not from West Virginia, the headline of this post might have you scratching your head. It comes from a saying by a former Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates. He used to warn people to keep a close eye on the last night of the Legislature’s session because lots of mischief could be snuck into bills in the last-minute cover of darkness: “Fat possums like to travel at night,” he said.

Well, the fat possums were out in force as the final details of last week’s budget deal were being hammered out. The New York Times detailed a few of them this morning, focusing on the demise of a proposal passed a few months ago by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden to allow some employees to use vouchers from their employers to purchase their own insurance. As The Times explains, Wyden’s proposal was unpopular with both big business and labor. It passed despite this double-team of intense lobbying. At least until last Friday, when it was sacrificed on the altar of reaching a budget deal – even though the Congressional Budget Office found the measure could save money over the next four years.

A few other non-budgetary provisions got added to the mix to satisfy various interests: Efforts to restrict federal aid going to students of for-profit colleges were lost in the struggle. But a last-ditch attempt by General Electric to restore funding for an unnecessary second engine for the F-35.

The upcoming battle over the debt limit could be a feast for fat possums. Must-pass legislation almost always is. Keep a close watch.

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