A sensible and long overdue plan to prevent government shutdowns

It is ridiculous for the US government to keep lurching from one shutdown (or the threat of one) to the next and the last one was utterly insane, based as it was on a personal obsession of Donald Trump to get an unworkable solution to a manufactured crisis. In the end, absolutely nothing was achieved but many ordinary people were hurt. The stress that such shutdowns causes extend well beyond the federal employees actually furloughed. I think that fiasco has finally caused members of both parties to realize that something must be done to prevent the government repeatedly being held hostage over increasingly trivial policy disagreements.

Since 1976, the government has experienced 22 lapses in funding, ten of which resulted in federal workers being furloughed. But three longest of those furloughs have all taken place since 1995: including a 16 day impasse in 2013 and the just ended 35 day one.

Proposals are now coming in from both parties to prevent this in the future, with Nancy Pelosi taking the lead. Her legislation would propose that if any appropriation bill is not passed by the due date, a continuing resolution (CR) to extend government funding at the same rate would automatically kick in.

In a briefing with reporters and columnists on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became the highest official yet to formally embrace legislation that would effectively prevent the government from closing. And she hinted that she may even push a proposal in the near future.

“[Former Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI)] had a bill that I’m hoping we might be able to put forward,” Pelosi explained. “And what that bill said is that if you do not, on any appropriations bill, I’m not talking about the omnibus or minibus”—aggregate spending bills— “any appropriations bill that does not get agreed upon within a timely fashion by the date, you automatically go into a CR” — a resolution to keep current spending levels going— “until you do.”

Some Republicans are also suggesting that action must be taken to prevent future shutdowns.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the president pro tempore of the Senate, put out a statement on Friday that included this conspicuous request about the government funding bill that Congress now must reach in three weeks, when the current deal expires: “The final package should also end government shutdowns once and for all.”

And in the halls of Congress following the announcement of a resolution to the current standoff, longtime Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is retiring from office, said “that government shutdowns should be in budget negotiations what chemical weapons are to real warfare…. completely off limits.”

But other Republicans want such CR budgets to be reduced each time by a fixed amount. This is likely to be a non-starter since a reduction implies a change in the status quo and that requires a debate. I presume that a president could still veto such a CR but assuming that the Congress has agreed to this, it should be easier to get an override, at least in principle. But given the supine attitude of Republicans towards Trump, they may not back up a law that they themselves passed.

But perhaps the best proposal is the following, which is the same as Pelosi’s but with a kicker.

And then there’s the “Stop Stupidity (Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The Coming Years) Act.” The mangled-acronym inspired bill was introduced this week by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). It takes the keep-things-level-approach and offers a twist. In lieu of a failure by lawmakers to reach a spending deal, the current funding levels of the government would automatically continue — except for those monies meant to pay members of the legislative branch and the office of the president.

“We ought to never do this again,” Warner offered on Friday. “And if we can’t come to an agreement moving forward on an item, the people who ought to pay the price are not the 800,000 federal workers or the contractors, but the only entities that ought to be completely defunded are congress and the office of the president.

Yep, that sounds about right.


  1. sqlrob says

    I originally thought it was a good idea, but then I saw a really good argument against defunding Congress when this happens. A good chunk of Congress can manage without a paycheck; some can’t, like AOC. Putting pressure on the poorer members of Congress is just going to lead to capitulations to the richer ones.

  2. Bruce H says

    It’s not clear to me that the provision applies to only the President and the Congresscritters themselves, or to their entire staffs. If it is their entire staffs, it strikes me as a bit much.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Bruce H.

    I think it applies only to the president and members of Congress because they are the ones directly responsible. It would not make sense to punish staffers.

  4. lanir says

    But other Republicans want such CR budgets to be reduced each time by a fixed amount. This is likely to be a non-starter since a reduction implies a change in the status quo and that requires a debate.

    Screw them. Remind them they’re conservatives. Let them start conserving something real instead of imaginary bygone ages that never existed.

    The one thing I wish would have happened during this shutdown was a federal judge telling the rest of the federal government that payment for work is not optional. If a private company had done these same shennanigans the judiciary would punish them for it.

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    But other Republicans want such CR budgets to be reduced each time by a fixed amount.

    I agree with lanir #4; screw them. This sounds like the horrible “sequester” idea where if a new budget wasn’t agreed to, there would be an automatic 10% reduction. Republicans would use this as a way to squeeze the social services budget.
    How about the opposite: if nothing is signed, the budget automatically goes up by 10%. Repubs might say “how terrible”, but then obviously it would give them incentive to sign something.

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