Congress Should Remove Legacy Riders From FY 2021 Spending Bills

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Legacy Riders Harm Women’s Health, Our Campaign Finance System, Endangered Species, Our Environment, Consumer Product Safety and More

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As appropriators in the U.S. House of Representatives mark up the FY 2021 spending bills this month, the Clean Budget Coalition is calling on Congress to remove as many legacy riders as possible from the annual spending packages.

Legacy riders are harmful poison pills that were attached to spending bills at some point in the past, swallowed by lawmakers in order to keep our government open, and that have remained in effect year after year. These special favors for big corporations and ideological extremists get held over from one budget cycle to the next, sometimes for decades, until they are removed by Congress.

As poison pills, most legacy riders are unpopular and highly controversial, which is why they could not become law through regular order and had to be sneaked into spending bills. Typically, a rider is added with little or no public debate and sometimes without lawmakers knowing about it. Many riders were deliberately hidden in obscure provisions of lengthy, difficult-to-read spending bills to conceal their presence.

“Few legacy riders have anything at all to do with funding our government, and they never belonged in budget and appropriations bills in the first place,” said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen and co-chair of the coalition. “They harm women’s health, the integrity of our nation’s campaign finance system, endangered species and our environment, the safety of consumer products and more.”

Below is a list compiled by the coalition of just some of the riders that should be removed. These examples are meant to illustrate how legacy riders harm the public, but are not an exhaustive list. Some already have been removed from the House’s FY 2021 spending bills marked up this week. The Clean Budget Coalition is urging appropriators in the House to continue removing legacy riders and calling on their counterparts in the U.S. Senate to follow the House’s lead.

 

Examples of Legacy Riders

Corporate Political Spending Rider. This legacy rider, tucked into the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, blocks the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from finishing a rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending to shareholders. Secret political spending is a huge problem that the public wants to see fixed, and shareholders want to understand how the companies they invest in are spending in politics. At a time when trillions in taxpayer dollars are being handed out or loaned to companies as bailout funds with few strings attached, this is exactly the sort of disclosure we need to combat political corruption and corporate influence over our political system.

Government Contractor Political Spending Rider. This legacy rider, hidden in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, stops the executive branch from requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. The public has the right to know whether companies are being awarded contracts because of campaign donations. Transparency is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic. In June, it was discovered that a government contractor making COVID-19 testing materials was assembling the items in unsterile conditions at its Texas warehouse, where workers only intermittently wore protective gear. The company, Fillakit LLC, was established in Florida in May, six days before winning a $10.2 million contract from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to produce liquid-filled tubes for COVID-19 tests. The public deserves to know if contractors, whether they have been accused of wrongdoing or not, have been spending money on politics or lobbying to influence their access to contracts.

Nonprofit Political Activity Rider. This legacy rider, hidden in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, stops the U.S. Department of the Treasury and IRS from issuing a rule that would clarify the definition of political activity for 501(c)(4) social welfare groups, a major source of secret election spending. Without clear, bright lines, nonprofits willing to flout the rules – especially dark money groups – get a free pass, while the vast majority of nonprofits that want to follow our nation’s laws on nonpartisan civic engagement remain in the dark as to what is and isn’t permissible, leaving them at the mercy of potentially subjective and arbitrary enforcement. Better rules are even more important now that the Trump administration has eliminated the requirement that such groups report their major donors to the IRS.

Sage-Grouse Rider. The Greater Sage-Grouse is currently exempt from protection under the Endangered Species Act due to a rider in the U.S. Department of the Interior appropriations bill prohibiting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the species. The results of this rider have been disastrous for the grouse, including significant population declines, loss of priority habitat to oil and gas drilling, and weakened regulatory mechanisms for their sagebrush habitat. To recover the grouse, and provide habitat for over 300 other species, it is essential this rider be removed to restore the backstop of the Endangered Species Act.

Lead Ammunition Rider. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently is prohibited from addressing the harms to wildlife and our environment caused by heavy metal contamination from lead ammunition and fishing sinkers. Bald Eagles continue to die each year from lead poisoning after feeding on carcasses with lead shot. For the endangered California Condor, the situation is dire. Recovery of the species is being prevented by ongoing lead poisoning caused by ingesting shot fragments. Loons, which incidentally ingest fishing sinkers, also are suffering major population losses. It is crucial for the conservation of these at-risk species that use of lead bullets and fishing sinkers be phased out.

Biomass Rider. This rider falsely asserts that burning forest biomass to produce energy is “carbon neutral” and “renewable” – a policy that ignores the reality that biomass power plants emit significantly more carbon dioxide than coal plants for the same amount of energy produced. The policy also fails to account for lifecycle emissions associated with harvesting, processing and burning wood fuel. Far from being instantaneously renewable, it can take decades, and in some cases more than a century, for forest regrowth to reabsorb the carbon emitted by the logging and biomass burning process. It is scientifically indefensible to characterize forest biomass energy as “carbon neutral” and inappropriate for Congress to dictate the science of biomass and climate change.

Off-Road Vehicles Rider. Recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) are motorized vehicles designed for off-highway use with four or more wheels and a maximum speed greater than 30 miles per hour. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) proposed rule for ROVs would strengthen the voluntary standards for these vehicles by addressing key hazards to drivers and passengers – including lateral stability, vehicle handling and occupant protection. The legacy rider attached to the Financial Services and General Government appropriations package requires an additional study whose sole purpose is to delay a rulemaking process that has been underway for more than half a decade. Continuing to delay the ROV rule will endanger lives, as ROV use has resulted in at least 923 deaths since 2013. The CPSC already has ensured that there is a strong, well-established technical basis for its proposed rule and should not be blocked from completing the work it began 10 years ago to protect consumers’ safety.

Hyde Amendment. This legacy rider bars the use of federal funds appropriated through the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies from being used to pay for abortion, except for very limited exceptions. This most significantly impacts the 64 million Americans who access health care through Medicaid. Due to the structural inequalities in our country that link racism, sexism and economic inequality, people of color disproportionately comprise the majority of Medicaid enrollees. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how these deeply rooted inequities have left communities of color gravely exposed in our country. The Hyde amendment is discriminatory, racist, and distorts the promise of Medicaid to provide people of low-income with access to fundamental health care services.

Hyde on Federal Employee Health Plans. This legacy rider prohibits the use of funding towards any administrative expense associated with a health plan under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) that provides benefits or coverage for abortion, except under very limited circumstances. In effect, this sharply curtails the ability of the roughly 8 million federal employees and their dependents to access abortion services. This rider unfairly penalizes Americans and their families who choose to work in public service by forcing them to pay for more of their health care out of pocket as compared to their private sector counterparts.

Hyde on D.C. Medicaid. This legacy rider prohibits the District of Columbia from using local funds to cover abortion services, except under very limited circumstances, under its version of the Medicaid program. In recent years, when this rider was not in place, D.C. was able to cover abortion services for its Medicaid recipients, and this care was disrupted when the ban was reinstituted several years ago. This prohibition, which applies solely to the District and to no other state, infringes on the sovereignty of D.C. citizens as well as the federal-state partnership structure of Medicaid by preventing the District from operating the program by a design of their choosing.

Hyde on Women in Federal Prison. This legacy rider prohibits the use of federal funds to provide abortion services, except under very limited circumstances, to persons who are incarcerated in federal detention facilities. The rider further permits providers operating in these facilities to refuse to provide abortion care. Prisoners do not surrender their rights to needed medical care while incarcerated, and that includes the constitutionally protected right to abortion. This rider is both inhumane and dangerous.

Hyde on Peace Corps Volunteers. A legacy rider attached to funding provided by Congress to the Peace Corps program stipulates that health care provided to Peace Corps workers cannot include coverage of abortion. Until recently, this coverage ban did not include any of the limited exceptions provided for under similar Hyde-like bans, despite the reality that women who serve as Peace Corps volunteers face an elevated risk of sexual assault. Today, the nearly 8,000 workers serving in the Peace Corps, who are disproportionately young and female, are denied access to reproductive health care services solely because they volunteered to advance the mission and goals of the program by representing our country in communities around the world.