Just a short recap of what has transpired in this week’s episode of the DC Soaps.
- Shutdown Day 21: 800,000 people miss their paychecks.
- Shutdown Day 22: Shutdown becomes longest in American history.
- Shutdown Day 24: Reports that Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Congressional Republicans are completely deferring to President Trump, Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer to reach deal
- Shutdown Day 25: Sen. Schumer says he and President Trump have not spoken in six days.
- Shutdown Day 26: Speaker Pelosi tells President Trump he is no longer invited to give his State of the Union Address on January 29 if the government remains shutdown.
- Shutdown Day 27: President Trump cancels Speaker Pelosi’s 7-day trip to Brussels and Afghanistan 30 minutes prior its departure.
Depending on whether your paycheck is at stake, those last two items were hilarious or infuriating. Maybe both.
So while three people take their merry time getting around to resolving their differences over .13% of the federal budget, 800,000 federal employees and many more contractors are going without a paycheck, airport security lines are lengthening due to TSA “no pay well then I’m sick-days”, national parks are having trash removal issues, and millions of gallons of beer are going to waste.
While the border wall has divided our country, I think we can all agree that the current situation is ridiculous. It’s too late to reverse course this time, but there are things that can change to make sure that this never happens again.
No Budget, No Pay and all its iterations
The idea is nearly as simple as its title. If Congress fails to do something it’s supposed to do, such as pass a budget, pass funding bills, pass the debt ceiling, etc., then members of Congress do not get paid. This is meant to provide incentives for Congress to complete their basic duties on time. I bet members of Congress would be much more aggravated with a 7-day trip by the key negotiator during a shutdown if their pay depended on a resolution.
There is a little issue with the 27th Amendment to the Constitution which says that Congressional changes to their own pay can only be effective after the next general election. This is not the death knell for the No ___, No Pay concepts. It just requires a temporary workaround to say that salaries will be escrowed if Congress fails to do its job during that session of Congress and then the no-pay provision would be active starting with the next Congress. Note: most proposals set pay at $1 to align with Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution, which requires Congress to “receive a compensation for their services.” While the media cannot focus on anything except for election cycles, its okay to create permanent policy that will not take full effect until two years from now.
This Congress, Senator Daines (R-MT) and Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the No Government, No Pay Act and Senators Braun (R-IN) and Manchin (D-WV) introduced the No Budget, No Pay Act. Senator Cornyn said that “Congress shouldn’t get paychecks during a shutdown while honorable federal government employees are denied theirs for no good reason” and Senator Braun points out that “there are consequences for unfinished work in the business world, and considering it’s Congress’s job to pass budgets and spending bills, it’s time we hold Washington to the same standard.”
At least 70 members are also donating or withholding their pay until the shutdown ends, but these are all sanctimonious political pledges that are empty without a more permanent solution.
No ___, No Pay places incentives on Congress to do their job, but what about the mass furloughs and loss of government services (and beer)?
End Government Shutdowns Act
The End Government Shutdowns Act would take care of that. The bill basically does what it says. If Congress is unable to pass funding bills on time, instead of triggering a “shutdown,” all the agencies would be funded at their current levels under a “continuing resolution.” This would allow for an agreement on funding bills to be reached without the uncertainty and calamity surrounding a government shutdown.
The proposal, introduced by Senator Portman, would slowly make across-the-board cuts to federal spending, including defense to keep Republican defense hawks incentivized to deal, until a funding agreement is passed. This would avoid the unintended consequence of placing all federal funding on permanent auto-pilot. The proposal was supported by every Republican in the Senate in a 2013 vote but was defeated because a vast-majority of Democrats did not like the automatic spending cut aspect of the approach.
To address this concern, Senator Lankford has floated an idea of taking the automatic CR concept and placing deep and progressively escalating cuts to only Congressional and White House budgets and members’ salaries. Limit the damage of funding impasses to the people that are in charge of the fight – the exact opposite of what is happening now.
When you are in DC or on Capitol Hill, the debates often feel like putting on VR helmets during the day and taking them off to go home. There are no consequences for the decisions that are made. If Congressional inaction took a toll on their own pay or their vital staff’s pay, the fallout of their actions would be more real than newspaper headlines and conversations with TSA agents. More urgency would ensue.
Not only would the End Government Shutdowns Act prevent future government shutdowns, it could have the added benefit of improving a broken budget process. Only twice since 1979 has Congress not used at least one continuing resolution in a fiscal year. Under the new system, since continuing resolutions will be automatic – the only thing Congress can do when the October 1st funding deadline comes is to do the real funding bills or take a personal pay cut.
This would also prevent the all-to-common leadership strategy to package up a massive funding bill and introduce it right before the deadline, giving rank-and-file members and the public no time to review it. Without the ax of a government-wide shutdown hanging over their heads – members can actually take their time and see what’s in the bill they are being asked to vote on.
Most importantly, it would avoid the costs, disruptive lost services and furloughs created by a government shutdown. Taxpayers spent $2.5 billion on backpay for the 850,000 federal employees that were furloughed during the 2013 shutdown. While there will always be disagreements on the appropriate size and role of the federal government, everyone can agree that we should strive for an efficient one.
We are currently in a position where both sides are completely dug in and neither side can give or else their feverish base will excoriate them. How will the 22nd shutdown in American history end? Your guess is as good as mine. But there is no reason why it should not be the last.