Will We Have a Clean Budget or Poison Pills?

By Sister Marge Clark
June 27, 2016

Both the House and the Senate are working their way through funding bills (appropriations) for fiscal year 2017, which begins on October 1, 2016. Unfortunately, they are muddling through without the benefit of a budget that would allocate the amount of funding for each of the twelve areas of annual discretionary spending. This is because members of the House remain divided on what the overall spending amount should be: abide by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement signed by House and Senate in late 2015, or spend less—breaking yet another agreement. This disagreement opens the door for amendments that will benefit some special interest groups and limit spending on our common needs.

House Republicans often use this chaos to add things – whether it be harmful cuts to government assistance programs, or eligibility restrictions—that are undesirable or even irrelevant to the bills at hand. We refer to such amendments as “poison pill” riders. They ride on the bill, often without discussion or a separate vote. Examples of this include addition of work requirements for those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or drug testing to receive housing assistance. These added strategies further devastate the hopes of people trying to live in dignity and improve the status of their family.

NETWORK’s Mend the Gap principles and policy recommendations promote legislation that will allow families to live in greater dignity and move to a more stable position in their community. NETWORK Lobby is working to keep these “poison pill” riders from damaging the legislation necessary to ensure sufficient housing and healthcare and to protect workers and their families.

Last year, as the spending bills were rolled into an “omnibus” package to be voted on as a single bill, advocacy groups were successful in keeping poison pill riders off the package. We worked with one voice across very divergent groups, because we all see the potential damage to our communities. Now, the fight is more difficult because we have to fight riders on each individual spending bill. It takes more time to study and analyze each individual bill, and it takes more awareness of issues other than our own greatest concerns. But together, we fight on.

So far this year we have been successful in the Senate. There have been very few poison riders introduced. But, there are many bills to go. In the House, there is a constant need to watch what amendments are proposed, and to demand that members consider the implications of each of these amendments on the good of all the people, not just a privileged few. The further into the appropriations season we get – and the closer to the election – the more danger there is of amendments cutting assistance to people who are vulnerable. NETWORK Lobby continues to work for clean legislation for our nation’s spending priorities.