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House Democrats Just Set Up a Shutdown

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/J. David Ake

House Democrats unveiled their fiscal year 2021 spending bills, and they are nothing short of a dare. The bills challenge any notion of moderation, laying down the gauntlet for a budget showdown that will lead nowhere but a government shutdown.


One would think the combination of a worldwide pandemic, weeks-long protests, and only a month’s worth of days left on the legislative calendar before the new fiscal year begins would be a recipe for restraint. Instead, Democrat appropriators act emboldened by intense polarization and prevailing poll numbers – as if pushing poison pill policy riders will score additional points to secure their cause.

Last July, anticipating the inevitable heat rising in an election-year, a two-year bipartisan agreement was forged to avert such recklessness. Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer joined their Republican counterparts and the White House in penning a noteworthy bipartisan budget agreement: “The 2019 Bipartisan Budget Agreement for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 (“Agreement”) is agreed to by the bipartisan leadership of Congress and the administration of Donald J. Trump … relative to the FY 2019 regular appropriations Acts, there will be no poison pills, additional new riders, additional CHIMPS, or other changes in policy or conventions that allow for higher spending levels, or any non-appropriations measures unless agreed to on a bipartisan basis by the four leaders with the approval of the President.” (emphasis added)

Unfortunately, House Democrats made the first move to throw this bipartisan agreement to the wind – and with it, any goodwill. What could have been a pathway to a peaceful process has been upended by political greed. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the link to the July 22, 2019 agreement can no longer be found on Speaker Pelosi’s webpage.   


Because spending for next year is incumbent on incumbent lawmakers, Democrats are seeking nothing less than to overthrow the Trump Administration’s policy achievements before the election. Their political intent is on display in plain sight. Press releases summarizing their plans for agency spending spell out their goals to undo everything Trump has done in his first term. They include exactly the kind of provisions that the budget agreement defines as new poison pill riders. 

Taken straight from their biased fact sheet, here are a few of the Democrats’ poison pill provisions in the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education FY 21 spending bill (emphasis added):

  • The bill includes a new provision to block the Administration’s regulation to prevent unionized home health workers from using a payroll deduction to pay their union dues.
  • The bill includes language to override the Administration’s gag order and restore grant eligibility to Planned Parenthood and other health clinics that offer the full range of reproductive health services.
  • The bill includes a new provision prohibiting funds from implementing the final Title IX regulation regarding how schools respond to sexual assault and harassment and that disproportionately burdens complainants.
  • The bill includes a new provision to block the Administration’s new regulation that would allow discrimination in health and health education programs against individuals based on LGBTQ status.

How are House Republicans responding to these tactics? It appears many GOP appropriators are content to go along with the process, rather than stand against the tyranny of the majority. Lest they forget their principles and their politics, Republicans would do well to draw their lines in the sand early against these partisan attacks. 

As House and Senate leaders recognized a year ago, the poison pill test has merit in polarized times. Republicans and Democrats should stand together on that principle and abide by their agreement.

Averting a September budget showdown is possible, but that path must be forged now. House Democrats chose to take a U-turn at the start of the journey. To get back on track, they now have a choice: exercise the political will to override scoring political points or be the party to blame for a shutdown. 

Doreen Denny is Vice President of Government Relations for Concerned Women for America

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