On Wednesday evening, we finally saw the text of the long-awaited FY18 omnibus appropriations bill, which was voted through both the House and the Senate yesterday.
After months of continuing resolutions and shutdowns, Congress has finally returned to straightforward budgeting. As the release of the bill approached, we watched anxiously for the fate of a number of noxious poison pill riders which had been proposed as attachments to the “must-pass” bill, and would hurt our campaign finance system, environmental safeguards, financial regulations, women’s health, public health and more. Even as late as Wednesday afternoon, press reports indicated that Democratic leaders in the House remained concerned about as many as 20 poison pill riders (down from the hundreds that had initially been proposed). Most of these measures were special favors for big corporations and ideological extremists that had nothing to do with funding our government and could not become law on their own merits.
Luckily, relatively few of these poison pills ended up in the final bill text. For instance, a disastrous rider was proposed that would have blocked enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, which has long prohibited churches and charities from spending money on elections. Donations to these groups are tax deductible and undisclosed. Repeal of the Johnson Amendment could have meant that an additional $1 billion in secret political spending would be unleashed in elections – and subsidized by taxpayers to boot! But the Johnson amendment repeal rider did not live to see the light of day. Similarly, many of the most outrageous riders that would have dismantled important protections for health, the environment, and consumers were removed from the final deal.
We are proud of the hard work we and our partners put in to pressure lawmakers to remove these dangerous provisions. The 264 members of the Clean Budget Coalition fought tooth-and-nail for a clean budget, free of poison pill riders. Thanks to their hard work and determination, Americans are getting a funding package for FY 2018 that is mostly free from these harmful measures. This is a significant victory for the public.
We applaud the dedication of the minority party in Congress to fending off these unpopular and damaging riders. These policies are simply inappropriate for an appropriations package.
While we are happy to see that so many toxic riders were defeated, there were nevertheless several poison pills that did make it into the bill that are cause for concern. For instance, a provision was included that prevents the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from finishing its critically important disclosure rule for political spending by publicly-traded corporations. Two other anti-disclosure riders were also added. One prohibits the IRS from undertaking rulemaking to address “dark money” electioneering nonprofit groups; the other prevents any official actions that would require government contractors to disclose their political spending.
Although these embedded riders do not constitute as devastating a blow to our campaign finance system as some GOP lobbyists had been pushing for, it is still alarming that these corporate interest giveaways were included again.
Furthermore, as our coalition Americans for Financial Reform points out, the Omnibus package did have a few new poison pills sneak in that serve the interests of big Wall Street banks rather than the public. For instance, provisions made it in that will allow Business Development Companies to increase profits at the expense of ordinary investors, and will reduce oversight of the derivatives market by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
As a part of the Clean Budget Coalition, we will continue to monitor these poison pills and fight to remove them in the next budget cycle. We will not cease our demands that Congress pass budgets that work for the public, instead of tacking on “ride-alongs” to benefit corporate interests.