Keep the toxic bitters out of the budget cocktail
It’s that time of year again — Washington has turned its focus to the threat of national default and how to fund the government. This year’s cocktail has had the additional flavors of a contested U.S. House Speaker’s race and a presidential race to spice things up, and has resulted in an actual budgetary framework for the first time in several years.
The problem now is that members of Congress are attempting to add deal sweeteners for corporate lobbyists into the final budgetary mixture. These so-called “policy riders” are legislative provisions addressing extraneous policy issues that have little or nothing to do with funding our government. They get slipped into must-pass funding bills because lawmakers hope the public won’t notice their bitter taste. These riders are generally ideological measures that the public opposes and the president would veto as standalone legislation.
Most of the attention has focused on one particularly heinous poison pill — the effort to defund Planned Parenthood — which would threaten healthcare for millions of women. Congressional Republicans have threatened to shut down the government to force us to swallow this one. But there are hundreds of other toxic ideological riders that have been added to the budget. These riders would block efforts to stop Wall Street abuses, ensure safe and healthy food and products, provide clean air and water, keep workplaces safe, prevent consumer rip-offs and corporate wrongdoing, and ensure continued access to vital healthcare services across the board.
One example is a rider that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Labor from finalizing or enforcing a rule that would ensure Americans get sound financial advice on their retirement savings. Another rider would block the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration from finalizing a rule to protect workers from toxic silica dust; this rule has been more than a decade in the making about would save 700 lives a year.
And another set of riders would stymie potential campaign finance disclosure reforms by stopping the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending, preventing the Internal Revenue Service from defining political activity for nonprofits and keeping the administration from requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.
These riders may taste great to the big donors and big corporations that fund the Republican Party, but they’re toxic to working families or the middle class. Many of them are wildly unpopular and deeply controversial with voters in both parties. By sneaking them into the budget, lawmakers are trying to avoid a real debate, demonstrating that Congress isn’t looking out for middle-class Americans.
President Obama should not engage in negotiations over individual riders. Instead, he should insist on a clean funding bill free from ideological riders that are toxic to our environment, our workplaces and our political process. We need a budget we can all swallow.
Lisa Gilbert is the director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.