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 John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral 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 ShelbyFive takeaways from Trump's budget Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Trump unveils 2020 budget | Calls for cuts to NIH | Proposes user fees on e-cigs | Azar heads to Capitol to defend blueprint | Key drug price bill gets hearing this week Trump's emergency declaration looms over Pentagon funding fight MORE and ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCitizens lose when partisans play politics with the federal judiciary Senate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen Patrick Leahy sits at center of partisan judicial nominations 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.