Political Jargon Buster: Rider

Photos: (Getty)

rider, (noun): a provision to a bill that has little connection to the subject matter, designed to increase or decrease its chances of passage

J.Lo‘s rider reportedly asks that her coffee to be stirred counter-clockwise. Mariah Carey‘s specifies a dressing room stocked with white roses, vanilla candles and pink TP…and puppies…and kittens. Eminem is rumored to have once expected a koi pond be built in anticipation of his arrival; now he’ll settle for jars of pickles. And Van Halen created a pop culture touchstone when they demanded those legendary bowls of green M&Ms.

And just why did Van Halen want green M&Ms?? Rumor has it the band was testing the roadies, making sure they read the fine print.

And yes, this is relevant. Because while rock star riders are way more delightful than the political kind, the details can getcha every time.

In general, a rider functions to make a touchy bill more palatable to lawmakers. When legislators want to introduce a bill that stands a decent chance of being rejected, they may attempt to attach it as an eeety-bitty rider amendment to an otherwise very popular law. It’s like using a “FREE ICE CREAM FOR ALL!” law as the in-road for a controversial fine print provision. “FREE ICE CREAM FOR ALL! (but laughter is illegal).” That sort of thing.

And just how could lawmakers miss the Illegal Laughter clause!?!? Well, with hundreds of pages of blah-blah-blah text indicating hundreds of different provisions, a carefully worded, nondescript one could easily go unnoticed. Especially if the voters will hate you next election for killing the Free Ice Cream law.

In most states, legislature can pick apart a bill to reject bits and pieces by way of “line item vetos,” but fighting the fine print of otherwise favorable bills takes so much time and talking. People, by and large, don’t want to think that DC is wasting valuable resources on semantics when a Very Important Law is up for vote. Unfortunately, those semantics just might involve Very Controversial Riders that have nothing at all to do with the publicized part.

Incidentally, if lawmakers want to stop a law from passing, they may add a particularly off-putting provision — a “poison pill.” Those are usually only designed, though, to bid adieu to proposals that have failed to pass after a good long while.

The moral of the lesson: Read the fine print. Green M&Ms aren’t just in green rooms.