Earthjustice logo
This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

As the threat of a total federal government shutdown hangs over the country, leaders in Congress and the White House continue eleventh-hour emergency negotiations to reach a compromise before time runs out on keeping our government funded and averting a costly and potentially disastrous government shutdown.

According to press reports this morning, the thing holding up any deal—and what will cause a shutdown if it happens—is not the dollar figure of budget cuts but the forcefulness of Republicans to use this budget bill as a vehicle to carry two unrelated political demands: blocks on clean air protections and reproductive rights for women..

“The two main issues holding this matter up are the choice of women, reproductive rights, and clean air,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told The Hill this morning. “These matters have no place in a budget bill.”

On March 30, the White House made its position plain as well: it will not allow a funding bill to be hijacked by the ideological and political agendas of any political party.

The White House and Sen. Reid are right. Despite what House leadership thinks, all Americans have the right to breathe clean air.

The Republican leadership’s determination to wipe away clean air safeguards is audacious. These riders have no place in this budget bill or, for that matter, in these negotiations. By using this spending bill as a sneak attack on environmental and public health protections that save tens of thousands of American lives, reduce hospital visits, heart attacks and asthma attacks, and reduce health care spending by billions of dollars annually, the House leadership has proven that it is neither serious nor trustworthy in its claim to care about cutting federal spending.

And when the government shuts down, House leadership will be to blame for stubbornly and selfishly putting their focus on political “wins” over the best interests of the American people and the 800,000 federal workers who depend on their government paychecks.

Unlike House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), President Obama and Sen. Reid are absolutely right to not yield to the Tea Party freshmen in the House who won’t back down until they have ramrodded their ideological policy riders in this budget bill.

This is a defining moment for all Americans whose lives depend on the ability to breathe clean air. Last year alone, the Clean Air Act saved 160,000 lives, 130,000 heart attacks, 13 million lost workdays, and 1.7 million asthma attacks.

Our lives and our health are too important to be laid to waste by some political bargain.