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No Path Forward for Hundreds of Extreme Poison Pills

By Lisa Gilbert

Congressional leaders have set the stage for a final showdown over hundreds of poison pill policy riders in the annual spending bills.

On Sunday night, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) finally reached an agreement on topline appropriations for the fiscal year 2024 spending bills.

The good news is that the deal follows the framework of the Fiscal Responsibility Act – the legislation that ended the debt ceiling standoff in the spring of 2023, and secures $772.7 billion for non-defense discretionary spending. This money is critical for supporting programs and policies that all Americans depend on.

The bad news is that the deal includes cuts to IRS funding that will harm the agency’s ability to go after tax cheats, curtailing important revenue. Also alarming is that poison pill riders remain on the table for the MAGA GOP.

Poison pills are toxic measures that have nothing to do with funding our government and have no place in the annual spending bills.

We have just days remaining until the January 19 funding deadline for four of the 12 annual spending bills. If appropriators are unable to write and pass individual spending bills for Agriculture, Energy and Water, MilCon-VA, and Transportation-HUD, closely followed by the remaining eight bills, then we will face a government shutdown. The extreme House GOP’s insistence on poison pills could be the reason.

Crucially, Leader Schumer and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries made clear that Democrats will not support the inclusion of poison pill policy.

However, in a letter to his caucus, the Speaker claimed that Republicans still have space to fight for “important policy provisions.”

Here is what Mike Johnson means by important:

House Republicans added more than 560 poison pill riders (cataloged by the Clean Budget Coalition) to their draft spending bills over the past year – many of them culture war provisions that attack women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ+ Americans. Other poison pills would harm our environment, double down on the lies behind the January 6th insurrection, fuel gun violence, and more.

The bills include poison pills attacking abortion rights, blocking access to reproductive health care, and rolling back widely available contraception. Many would codify climate denial into law. Some would let businesses steal from workers and scam consumers. Still others fuel misinformation, political corruption, and financial crime.

It’s a seemingly endless list of outrageous and pernicious policies that would still be growing if House Republican extremists had more time.

In addition to hundreds of these harmful measures, many of the poison pills House Republicans added are beyond absurd. They’re the kinds of measures that make people squint and say “you’ve got to be kidding.”

From bans on drag queens and pride flags to one-dollar salaries for top Cabinet officials to special favors for crypto bros, House Republicans have added dozens of embarrassing measures that strain credulity. To be clear, they are risking a government shutdown over keeping cigarettes more addictive, interfering with local D.C. traffic laws, and finding out who left a dime bag of cocaine in the White House.

The annual spending bills are no place for any of this nonsense.

It’s important to understand that extreme MAGA House Republicans are all alone in loading up their spending bills with poison pills. The White House, House Democrats, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans have already repeatedly rejected the idea of loading down the bills with non-spending matters.

It’s time for the responsible voices in the House GOP conference to take back the reins from extremists in their party and pass clean spending bills.

To avoid a costly and disruptive shutdown or another stopgap funding bill, there isn’t enough time left for House Republicans to pass party-line bills without Democratic support. Bills loaded with poison pills should not be a serious basis for final negotiations.

As long as the White House, Democrats in both chambers of Congress, and Senate Republicans remain firm in their commitment to spending bills free from poison pills, that is the only path forward.


Lisa Gilbert is executive vice president of Public Citizen and co-chair of the Clean Budget Coalition.