House Republican partisan riders could poison federal budget talks

The long awaited end of year budget battle has arrived, and as usual it is coming down to the wire. You may have heard that the fight is over funding for the border wall called for by President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE. But there is another key set of sticking points standing in the way of a bipartisan deal. They are known as poison pill riders, which are harmful and controversial measures that have nothing to do with funding our government. Some lawmakers try to sneak poison pill riders into budget and appropriations bills, thus undemocratically bypassing the normal legislative process.

Defunding Planned Parenthood, rolling back campaign finance laws, stripping protections for endangered species, and overturning Wall Street reforms are the sorts of toxic riders that Republican lawmakers have proposed year after year, risking government shutdowns and threatening bipartisan spending deals. As a result of the hard work of the 265 public interest groups in the Clean Budget Coalition and the united front that Democrats have maintained in Congress, most of these toxic measures have been removed from past funding bills before their final passage.


But this year has been a little different. Back in September, Congress passed many, though not all, of the fiscal 2019 funding bills without any poison pill riders. This was made this possible by the leadership of Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Senate GOP opens door to earmarks Five takeaways from Biden's first budget proposal MORE and ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCongress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Senate GOP opens door to earmarks MORE. They forged a bipartisan consensus among Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, and House Democrats that poison pill riders should have no place in the legislative process.

The problem is that House Republicans insist on including these harmful measures in the remaining fiscal 2019 funding bills. Congress must act by next Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown. You might think that following a historic wave election in which they lost control of the lower chamber, House Republicans would back down on their extreme and unreasonable demands. Instead, House Republicans see the funding legislation this month as their last chance to ram through unpopular special favors for their corporate donors and ideological supporters.

That kind of approach is profoundly shortsighted. What little leverage House Republicans have left over the fiscal 2019 funding bills will vanish entirely when Democrats take over the lower chamber in January. Even though Democrats could probably get a better deal by postponing budget negotiations until they take over the House, most Democrats in both chambers would prefer to finish the fiscal 2019 funding bills before the holidays, so that the budget and appropriations committees can start with a clean slate in January and begin work on the fiscal 2020 budget.

If House Republicans were smart, they would listen to their Senate Republican colleagues, put partisan politics aside, and agree to remove the harmful riders from the funding legislation. Shutting down the government right before the winter holidays just to keep poison pill riders around for another few weeks will only remind Americans why House Republicans deserved to lose their majority in the midterms this year.

Lisa Gilbert is the vice president for legislative affairs for Public Citizen.