Congress Must Pass a Clean Budget With No Poison Pills or Legacy Riders
More Than 265 Organizations Are Calling for Clean Spending Bills With No Poison Pills or Legacy Riders
Every year, Congress must pass a series of budget and spending bills to fund the services and safeguards that protect our families and communities. In recent years, lawmakers have threatened to attach harmful policy riders to this legislation that would weaken, repeal or block essential public protections. Most of these measures are special favors for big corporations and ideological extremists that have nothing to do with funding our government and could not become law on their own merits. In past years, some of them managed to sneak through and are then held over from previous budget cycles as “legacy riders.” More than 265 organizations have joined together to form the Clean Budget Coalition in opposition to these measures. We’re calling on lawmakers to pass clean spending bills ahead of the Sept. 30 funding deadline.
Measures that let corporations game the political system, interfere with the independence of the District of Columbia, shut down critical public health protections, and attack our environment do not belong in federal spending legislation year after year. Senate appropriators and their staffers should make sure they are removed from the spending bills. Once lawmakers return from the August recess, senators will have just three weeks to mark up and pass all of their appropriations bills out of committee and send them on to the floor by the deadline at the end of September. Senators should not insist on keeping any policies not in the public interest that the House already voted to remove. If they do, they will be throwing a wrench in the process and risking yet another costly and politically embarrassing government shutdown in early October.
As part of the deal, Democratic leaders agreed not to include controversial policy changes, known as “riders,” in future spending bills. Those measures, which can be tied to hot-button issues such as abortion and immigration, can imperil spending legislation. Opponents of these measures often call them “poison pills.” “There will be no poison pills, additional new riders . . . or other changes in policy or conventions,” congressional leaders wrote in an outline of the deal. But lawmakers often disagree on what constitutes a poison pill, and the debate could be revived once specific spending bills are introduced.
The debate surrounding abortion access is about to spill over from the campaign trail to Capitol Hill as lawmakers begin debating must-pass appropriations bills. Starting Wednesday, the House will take up a nearly $1 trillion spending package written by Democrats that would roll back Trump administration anti-abortion policies, including restrictions barring health clinics from recommending abortion services and preventing U.S. foreign assistance to aid groups that perform or promote abortions. But the massive spending bill keeps in place the four-decades-old Hyde amendment, which prevents federal health care funding, including Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income beneficiaries, from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the woman’s life. The amendment is named for the late Illinois Republican Rep. Henry J. Hyde, who sponsored the original language. That’s an increasingly difficult position for Democrats to defend these days, given the outcry on the campaign trail even among presidential candidates who’ve voted for Hyde in the past. Former Vice President Joe Biden, a self-described “practicing Catholic,” became the latest high-profile Democrat to publicly disavow the Hyde amendment Thursday after taking fire from fellow candidates and interest groups.
Cutting down trees and burning them to make electricity is not a climate solution, and, thankfully, Congress took an important step toward recognizing that this week. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives eliminated a long-running—and ambiguous—provision in a spending bill that the Environmental Protection Agency inappropriately interpreted to mean it must recognize all so-called biomass energy as carbon neutral. The fight is not over yet, as the industry will fight hard to re-insert this dangerous “rider” into the Interior-EPA appropriations bill as its advances in the House and Senate. Congress must reject this effort, and the action of the House committee is a key step in the right direction.
In past years, lawmakers managed to sneak dozens of controversial riders into spending bills that never belonged in the first place and should be removed.