Poison Pill Riders – the Latest Tools in the Republican War on Public Protections

Besides using their normal tools to attack life-saving public protections, Republicans have once again chosen to exploit the budget process. Instead of relying on anti-regulatory bills and (at times theatrical) Congressional hearings, the majority party in the House has decided to go down the path of inserting poison pill riders into the budget appropriations process.

Poison pill riders are preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from fulfilling its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

From attacking science-based safeguards in a full frontal manner to using attempted stealth maneuvers to further delay an already bogged down rulemaking system, Republicans have not let up. Nearly all of the House appropriation bills currently up for debate or voted on contain regulatory assaults:

  • Killing specific final safeguards by blocking funding for the implementation, administration or enforcement – ex. Department of Labor’s fiduciary and overtime rules, preventing the enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules to limit exposure to lead paint and the Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement Well Control rule which provide commonsense protection against devastating offshore blowouts like Deepwater Horizon.

By also using stealthier methods and not just attacking specific protections, proposed standards or specific agencies, Republicans are further exploiting appropriation funding bills by adding poison pill riders to shut down the rulemaking system entirely. Since each funding bill covers multiple agencies and different areas, all-encompassing riders have the most devastating impact.

  • Repeat riders have emerged in various bills to shut down any rulemakings the bill would have funded – ex. the House Financial Services & General Government (FSGG) bill included a rider to prohibit the funding of all regulatory actions until January 21, 2017, and the same rider materialized in the House Interior bill.
  • In some cases, Republicans repeated the above riders but with a timeline attached – ex. a so-called midnight rules prevention rider surfaced in the House Energy & Water bill would eliminate funding for all rules with an economic impact of $100 million or more if finalized between November 8, 2016 and January 20, 2017.
  • As another stealth maneuver, Republicans in the House FSGG bill voted to add a piece of legislation to the mix, H.R. 427, the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS). Putting the ill-advised REINS Act into law would require Congressional approval before enacting major regulations – allowing the majority party a golden opportunity to kill the most life-saving public protections.

There’s a reason lawmakers sneak poison pill policy riders into must-pass spending bills to avoid a real debate: these provisions could not become law on their own merits. Many of them are wildly unpopular, damaging to the public and deeply controversial with voters in both parties — and they have nothing to do with funding our government.

That’s why Congress needs to pass clean spending bills with no poison pill riders and Republicans need to stop their assault on life-saving public protections.

Michell K. McIntyre is Coalition Manager at the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards.