This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.
Making Congress functional again is having a moment. The debates over ending the filibuster and legislation to prevent hyper-partisan congressional districts have received the most attention in this space so far. But lawmakers did quietly take an important step forward on mending congressional dysfunction when they reinstated the practice of earmarking the federal budget, reversing a decade-old ban.
Lawmakers should build on this fix to the budget process by cracking down on “poison pill” appropriations riders, a gimmick that proliferated in the vacuum left by the earmark ban.
These riders are the inverse of earmarks, which direct federal agencies to spend a certain portion of funds on a specific activity (like building a bridge or community center, for example). Poison pill riders, on the other hand, bar agencies from using funds for certain activities. They don’t repeal agencies’ underlying authority to make rules, but they have the same effect, at least for the duration of the fiscal year.
These riders are often referred to as “poison pills” because they would not survive the legislative gauntlet if introduced as standalone legislation. (Though they go by the same name, they are distinct from …