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Anti-Environmental & Other Harmful Policy Riders Have No Place in Spending Bills

19 Apr 2016  |   Arian Rubio

 Today, nearly every member of the House Democratic Caucus, led by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) and Ruben Gallego (AZ-7), sent a letter to House leaders opposing ideological policy riders — provisions relating to policy issues, not funding allocations — on appropriations bills. The 172 Democrats sent the letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (WI-1), Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (KY-5), and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (NY-17).

Lawmakers insert policy riders into spending bills as a backdoor means to enacting them into law. And policy riders—whether they attack the environment, consumer protections, the right to organize, or other issues important to the public—fundamentally threaten the appropriations process. Rather than going through “regular order” and debating policy provisions through the appropriate policy-related committees, lawmakers attach these provisions as riders onto massive spending bills with little to no debate.  This means that the riders are not afforded regular public and congressional scrutiny, and by tying the riders to must-pass legislation and using the importance of the package as pressure, legislators increase the chance of passage for these policy riders.  This kind of politics caused a government shutdown in 2013, when members of Congress like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) insisted on defunding the Affordable Care Act as part of the appropriations process.

Today’s letter comes at a time when—despite congressional Republicans’ apparent inability to craft an overall top-line budget—the appropriations process has begun in both chambers, and Republican leaders have already snuck policy riders that harm the public interest into individual spending bills.  The House Energy and Water Appropriations bill, for example, contains an anti-environmental policy rider blocking the Clean Water Rule, which protects the drinking water of one in three Americans, as well as a number of harmful riders related to water issues in California.  

This approach, however, is running into stiff opposition, with today’s letter being just the latest example.  Indeed, a coalition comprised of over 100 organizations, including the League of Conservation Voters, recently sent a letter to President Obama and members of Congress opposing policy riders in this year’s appropriations bills. This Clean Budget Coalition includes a broad partnership of public interest groups such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Demos, Americans for Financial Reform, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. This coalition has articulated our opposition to sneaking harmful provisions into these bills that fund the government, citing the risks to the public’s well-being.

According to Defenders of Wildlife, policy riders in Congress have continually attacked key environmental protections through the appropriations process in recent years. In fact, during last year’s appropriations process, no fewer than 113 anti-environmental policy riders were proposed. Last year’s bevy of anti-environmental policy riders included efforts to block the Clean Power Plan and undermine the Antiquities Act, which allows a president to protect spectacular public lands as national monuments.  


(Photograph of the San Gabriel Mountains taken by Daniel)

We applaud these members of Congress who signed on to the letter opposing policy riders, particularly Representatives Schakowsky and Gallego, for their leadership on this issue. The Clean Budget Coalition will continue to stand with them against harmful policy riders as the appropriations process moves forward.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Speaker Ryan, Leader Pelosi, Chairman Rogers, and Ranking Member Lowey:

We urge you to bring forward spending bills without divisive policy riders to fund the federal government in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. At a time when our country is confronting a range of urgent challenges, it is critical that the House of Representatives works expeditiously to complete the appropriations process. We believe clean bills – free of controversial policy provisions – represent the best chance to advance appropriations legislation through “regular order” and avoid another harmful political impasse.    

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 provided a framework for the House to consider and pass individual appropriations bills for FY 2017. We are deeply concerned, however, that adding controversial policy provisions to these bills would derail the appropriations process and provoke a needless standoff that could undermine our national security and economic stability. Instead of reviving the threat of another government shutdown or forcing a continuing resolution, we encourage you to act in the best traditions of the House and the best interest of our country by advancing appropriations bills free of contentious and divisive policy provisions.


Jan Schakowsky          Ruben Gallego

Member of Congress   Member of Congress

 (Cover photo found on Flickr and taken by arbyreed)

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