Cleaning up the national budget is an opportunity to clean up politics

Cleaning up the national budget is an opportunity to clean up politics
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The last thing anyone in this nation wants is another costly government shutdown. To avoid one, Congress must act by the end of September. Over the past few weeks, appropriators in the House of Representatives have been drafting and marking up legislation to ensure as much of the government as possible is funded before the deadline in five months.

If you have followed the budget battles over the past few years, you know how difficult it can be for lawmakers in both chambers to reach a deal. You also may be aware of the threat posed by poison pill policy riders. These measures, inserted by unscrupulous lawmakers into “must pass” spending bills to reward corporate donors and ideological extremists, have nothing to do with funding our government. In past years, the inclusion of these harmful measures has stood in the way of lawmakers from coming to an agreement, which is why many groups in the Clean Budget Coalition have fought hard to remove hundreds of them from the annual spending bills.

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Despite our best efforts, a few bad policy riders sneaked through. So this year, in addition to opposing new poison pill riders, many groups are fighting to remove old legacy riders from the funding bills. Some have been around for decades, while others are quite recent. It turns out that cleaning up the budget is also an opportunity for lawmakers to work together on cleaning up our politics because a few of the more recent legacy poison pills are contributing to corruption in the system.

One rider, for example, prevents the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department from clarifying the rules around political activity for charities, churches, and nonprofits. Another rider stands in the way of the Securities and Exchange Commission finishing a key rule that requires publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending to their shareholders. Another rider prevents the disclosure of political spending by federal contractors that might be using political action committee funds and campaign donations to get lucrative government contracts.

Lawmakers do not have to wait for the next election to pass legislation that starts cleaning up our political system. They can remove these corrupt legacy riders from the budget right now. Last month, more than 60 groups in the Clean Budget Coalition sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to keep such poison pill policy riders out of the appropriations bills and remove legacy riders that never should have been added to funding legislation in the first place. Let us hope lawmakers are listening. They still have plenty of time to do the right thing on this issue.

Lisa Gilbert is the vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen and one of the chairs of the Clean Budget Coalition of over 200 organizations.