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As Budget Process Ramps Up, Public Citizen and its Allies Demand a Clean Budget That Works for All Americans

By Craig Sandler

The process for Congressional policymaking is clear to any 5th grade civics student: laws are made through the regular order of the legislative process. Policy proposals should move through committees, where they’ll hold hearings and have debate, and receive floor votes if they are to become law.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Congress has been keeping to that clearly-defined process. Instead, some lawmakers have taken to using the budget appropriations process as a way to sneak their special interest policy wish lists into the must-pass funding packages. This can allow for dangerous or misguided policy provisions that wouldn’t have a chance to pass on the floor to ride along with the budget appropriations like it’s a Trojan horse. These ideological “poison pill” riders are dangerous, and the public opposes using them to roll back public protections. Nevertheless, they have unfortunately become a mainstay of the budget process.

Public Citizen (as a part of the Clean Budget Coalition), works hard to keep these special favors for big corporations and ideological extremists from bypassing the proper channels and becoming law. The Coalition works to pressure Congress and the White House to pass a clean budget with no harmful partisan policy riders that funds our communities and protects our families.

As the fiscal year 2019 budget appropriations process gets underway, we’re seeing a sight we’ve grown sadly accustomed to: appropriation bills that are laden with harmful policy riders. The House Financial Services and Good Government (FSGG) appropriations bill contains policy riders that would threaten the financial well-being of American consumers.

This FSGG bill contains misguided banking provisions that would cause profound harm to American consumers. For instance, the bill would roll back restrictions passed in the Dodd-Frank reforms in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis preventing banks from gambling with taxpayer-backed funds. It would severely undermine the independence and authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a consumer watchdog agency that, as of early 2017, had secured nearly $12 billion in relief for nearly 30 million consumers. At a time when consumer protections like the CFPB’s guidance limiting discrimination in the auto lending market are already under attack, the last thing consumers need is the gutting of the CFPB, one of the few institutions in Washington meant to protect them.

Furthermore, this appropriations bill contains ideological riders that would prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from being able to finalize a popular rule requiring that publicly traded companies disclose how they spend shareholder funds on political contributions to tax exempt organizations or trade associations that may lobby. More than 1.2 million investors and citizens have petitioned the SEC to advance this disclosure. The bill would also prevent the establishment of bright line rules clarifying the definition of political activity for nonprofits. These and other ideological policy riders in this and other bills and others are serious threats to American health, consumer safety, financial stability, and the promotion of good government.

Other appropriations bills in the works also seem likely to carry poison pill riders. Previous appropriations bills have included poison pill riders that would harm our environment, strip back civil rights protections, restrict access to health care services including reproductive health care, reduce protections that keep workplaces safe and more. As the appropriations process plays out, the Clean Budget Coalition will be vigilant in watching out for these awful riders coming out of other committee bills, and will fight to ensure they are not included in the final funding package.

The American people deserve a clean budget that works for all. The budget appropriations process should not be hijacked by special interests sneaking their policy wish lists into unrelated funding measures. Passing controversial and harmful policy through this back-door procedure is not only an inappropriate abuse of the budget process; it’s also a threat to public well-being and the integrity of our democracy.

Contact your members of Congress today by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and asking to be connected to your senators and representative. Tell them that you want a clean budget, free of poison pill policy riders.