By Michell McIntyre, Public Citizen
Each year, Congress and the White House must pass a series of appropriations bills – spending bills – that fund our government for the year ahead. If they fail to do so before the current year’s funding expires, the government shuts down until funding is restored.
The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate each have their own appropriations committees, made up of 12 subcommittees, whose job is to draft spending bills that fund different parts of the government. The danger is that harmful poison pill riders may be attached to any or all of these bills.
Here are ten reasons why ideological riders don’t belong in appropriations legislation.
1. The budget process is not the place to shove unpopular and damaging legislation down the throats of the unwitting public. Examples: Restrictions to women’s reproductive health and the application of broad religious refusal language that would allow employers, insurers and health care providers to deny others access to health services are unpopular and controversial.
2. Poison pill riders could lead to a government shutdown that threatens funding for vital programs, which ensure the health and safety of the American public. Examples: Due to lack of funds, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to cancel health and safety inspections and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has to suspend food stamps during a shutdown.
3. During a government shutdown, both businesses and the public suffer. Examples: Federal permitting and environmental reviews were halted during the last shutdown, delaying transportation and energy projects that would create jobs. In addition, federal loans to small businesses were put on hold.
4. Many ideological riders are sneaky backdoor plays to attack popular laws by weakening or undermining the rules that implement them. Examples: In 2015, we saw riders attacking Wall Street reform (Dodd-Frank), the Endangered Species Act and worker health and safety laws.
5. Riders can be used to cut protections for our food, water and consumer products. Examples: Last year’s riders list included threats to block, delay or weaken the nutrition labeling standards and e-cigarettes rules.
6. Policy riders are little more than sweetheart deals for big corporations and special favors for ideological extremists. Examples: Last year, a rider threatened to block funding for Planned Parenthood. Another one prevented the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from finalizing new rules requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their campaign finance activities to shareholders.
7. Poison pill riders put people’s lives at risk by stopping and delaying agencies from propagating much needed rules. Example: One rider prohibited the FDA from moving forward with a rule change that would improve the safety of prescription drug labeling to protect consumers from unsafe drugs.
8. Many riders are thinly veiled attacks on science. Examples: There are riders that would stop the dissemination of public health information on the harms of tobacco products; riders that would push back on the updated silica dust standard to the detriment of worker health; riders that would block research on the harms of fracking; and riders that would stop experts from providing advice to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
9. Many riders are giveaways to the highest bidder. Examples: U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins’s (R-W.Va.) included a rider that threatened to block the EPA’s then-pending ozone rule to last year’s House Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee bill. He received $187,400 from the mining industry, $48,666 from the oil and gas industries, and $25,950 from the manufacturing industry – sectors that would benefit from the rule’s delay.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) chaired the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee and added several anti-regulatory riders to the bill. During preceding election cycle, she received significant contributions from industrial sectors what would have benefited from these riders including $561,096 from the electronic utilities industry, $550,531 from the oil and gas industries, and $143,944 from the real estate industry.
10. Poison pill riders are used by millionaires, billionaires and big corporations to rig the rules against working families. Examples: Wealthy special interests attacked the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s work on a forced arbitration rule, which would allow customers to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing, and tried to roll back safeguards against toxic subprime mortgages that caused the 2008 financial crisis.
There’s a reason lawmakers sneak policy riders into must-pass spending bills to avoid a real debate: these provisions could not become law on their own merits. Many of them are wildly unpopular, damaging to the public and deeply controversial with voters in both parties — and they have nothing to do with funding our government.
That’s why Congress needs to pass clean spending bills with no riders.
Join us in demanding a clean budget.