What You Need to Know about Ideological Riders — and Why They’re Bad for Americans.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has so far this year stalled President Obama’s judicial nominees — including his Supreme Court nominee, Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit — and important bipartisan sentencing reform legislation, he has repeatedly called for the Senate to operate under regular order on at least one, crucial issue: funding the government.
McConnell wants the Senate to pass all 12 appropriations bills this year — which hasn’t been accomplished since 1994. The Senate is moving ahead by taking up several of last year’s appropriations bills without waiting for the House to pass a budget resolution. Passing a dozen appropriations bills would be fine, but only if they’re free of harmful ideological riders (also known as “poison pill” policy riders), which could have profoundly negative consequences for underserved communities. McConnell made similar claims about the desire for regular order during the appropriations process last year, but then hundreds of riders were added to appropriations bills. If lawmakers really want to protect the American people, they should oppose riders and pass clean appropriations bills.
What are riders?
Riders are policy changes or amendments that are attached to important bills such as annual spending bills. Sometimes they include divisive ideological initiatives or unpopular provisions that could not pass on their own merits or would otherwise be vetoed by the President. In the coming months, here’s what possible riders could do:
Threaten worker protections.
Lawmakers have threatened to attach a rider that would defund or derail implementation of President Obama’s Fair Pay & Safe Workplaces Executive Order (EO), which identifies companies with a record of workplace law violations and prohibits the federal government from contracting with employers that routinely violate workplace health and safety protections; engage in age, disability, race, and sex discrimination; withhold wages; or commit other labor violations. The EO also bans contractors from forcing employees to arbitrate claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as well as claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. This is critically important since the Department of Labor estimates that there are roughly 24,000 businesses with federal contracts, employing about 28 million workers — at least 20 percent of the civilian workforce.
Repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Congress has attempted to repeal the ACA more than 60 times, even as President Obama has made it clear that he would never allow such a policy change to occur. And millions of Americans now have healthcare thanks to the law. But because members of Congress know it’s not possible to repeal the ACA on its own, they’ve attached it as a rider to appropriations bills, hoping that if he vetoes the bill, the President would be blamed for a government shutdown.
Target low-income communities.
Women’s health. Last year Congress tried to add a rider to defund Planned Parenthood. Doing so would deny low-income individuals access to critical preventative health care services, including birth control, well-woman visits, cancer screenings, and screenings for sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood serves 2.7 million women, men, and young people every year.
Fair housing. A rider floated last year was aimed at preventing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from implementing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which would deny local policymakers the ability to create local solutions to address persistent barriers to fair housing choice. AFFH will provide new data and analytical tools to state and local governments and housing authorities that receive HUD funding, enabling them to identify the barriers in their communities that prevent equal access to opportunity. From there, jurisdictions will determine what steps must be taken to address those barriers, and how they can use their resources most strategically to expand that access. The AFFH rule will help stop racial isolation in communities, and if Congress wants to prevent implementation of the rule, they need to be transparent in the process by debating AFFH separately with the outcome determined on the merits rather than as a rider attached to an appropriations bill.
Drastic policy changes with such profound consequences for so many people should not be hidden within must-pass bills. These proposals must be debated separately, with the outcome determined on the merits.
For a sampling of riders of particular concern to the communities represented by The Leadership Conference, click here.