The longest shutdown in US history may have been bounced from the first round of the Tournament of Government Waste, but it has certainly not been bounced from our memory. Senator Lankford (R-OK) highlighted the waste that occurred when Congress failed to pass about 25% of discretionary spending on time in both his tournament entry and his Federal Fumbles Book.
The 35-day lapse delayed $18 billion in spending and resulted in an $11 billion hit to our economy. Taxpayers spent $2.5 billion on backpay for the 850,000 employees that were furloughed during the 2013 shutdown. This time, we spent $3 billion on backpay for the 300,000 employees that were furloughed. Combined, that’s as much money for pay without work as Trump’s border wall (which initiated the whole calamity) would have cost.
All because politicians could not do their jobs on time.
After this low-light, Senator Lankford and several of his colleagues decided that it’s time to make the 28th shutdown in American history the last.
Senator Lankford and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) introduced the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act. In the event that Congress does not pass all the spending bills on time, the bill would allow programs to continue to be funded, but members of Congress and their staff along with key members of the White House and Cabinet would not be allowed to travel outside of DC until the funding bills are passed. Congress would not even be allowed to consider any bills besides the funding bills.
The one incentive greater than any and all incentives in Washington is the smell of jet fumes from members’ flights back home. The theory of Senator Lankford’s bill is that if you take that away, DC will have no choice but to stay and get the job done. The infamous grounding of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plane amidst the shutdown would be a matter of public policy now. And in the meantime, hundreds of thousands of federal employees would not be furloughed and millions of American would not have to wonder about whether their government services will be fulfilled.
Senator Lankford’s proposal to prevent government shutdowns is not the only one that has been introduced. Senator Braun (R-IN), a fellow Tournament of Government Waste participant, introduced the No Budget, No Pay Act with Senator Manchin (D-WV) which would take away member pay in the event that Congress fails to pass the budget or spending bills on time. During the shutdown when 850,000 federal employees went without pay, Congress and their staff were completely unaffected. An embarrassing double standard that the bill would correct.
Senator Portman (R-OH) has the End Government Shutdowns Act which would keep the government open and slowly cut spending overtime as an impetus to strike a deal. And Senator Warner (D-VA) has the Stop Stupidity Act which would keep the government open while only stopping funding for Congress and the White House – exacting the fallout of failed spending negotiations on the people that are actually responsible for making the deal.
An automatic funding provision would not only avoid damaging shutdowns, it would also curtail the all-too-common tactic used by Congressional leadership to negotiate a massive funding bill behind closed doors and release it at the last second before a deadline hits. Lately, it’s been more common than not that our government is funded with a 2000-page, $1 trillion bill that most members and the public have fewer than two days to try to read and analyze.
Removing the pressure situation of an imminent government shutdown will allow members and the public time to review the bill for unrelated or wasteful provisions while reducing the amount of opaque, leadership-centric, backroom deal-making that is anathema to our representative democracy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did, however, sound open to the idea of an automatic funding bill that would prevent future government shutdowns, stating “I’d be open to anything that we could agree on a bipartisan basis that would make [government shutdowns] pretty hard to occur again.”
McConnell also said “I don’t like shutdowns. I don’t think they work for anybody and I hope they will be avoided.”
The American people agree. A recent poll found that only 32 percent support shutting down the government, even if it’s for a cause they believe in.
As for the bipartisan basis, Senator Lankford’s proposal already has bipartisan support. As does Senator Braun’s. Regardless of one’s perspective on the role and size of the federal government – shutdowns are clearly counterproductive and wasteful. It’s time for Congress to come together and finally shutdown the shutdowns.