With America’s longest shutdown ending on Friday, lawmakers are turning their attention to another dramatic political objective: making sure such episodes can never take place again.
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.”
Were Pelosi the lone figure to embrace such a concept, the chances of it actually materializing into law would be slim. And they may well be. But in the wake of the just-completed shutdown over border wall funding, top Republicans have joined the chorus seeking to pass legislation that would prevent shutdowns from ever happening.
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.”
That so many veteran lawmakers feel so strongly about prohibiting government shutdowns speaks, in part, to the growing harm those shutdowns are inflicting. 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.
But as with much in federal politics today, while lawmakers broadly agee on the concept that government shutdowns should never be allowed to happen, they disagree about the means of getting there. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a statement released on Friday, said that Congress should pursue “a new bipartisan rule” guaranteeing no shutdown happen again. Others, by contrast, want formal legislation. But there’s no consensus about the legislation that they want.
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), along with numerous Senate Republicans, has introduced the End Government Shutdowns Act, under which current spending levels would simply continue if no agreement was reached on new government funding legislation. But under his bill, that level of spending would be reduced by one percent if the disagreement persisted past 120 days and another one percent every 90 days thereafter. Unsatisfied with the swiftness in that bill’s automatic spending cuts, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced one of his own, making the spending reductions come in even quicker.
The concept Pelosi endorsed, by contrast, would not include those automatic reductions. It would keep spending levels as is.
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.