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The current federal government shutdown, which is the longest in United States history, was completely avoidable. The appropriations process in Congress is so incredibly broken, making it impossible for lawmakers in either chamber to return to regular order to get spending bills done on time before the end of the fiscal year. This stark inability of Congress to perform one of its most basic functions is a result of years of governing by crisis, something both Republican and Democratic leaders are guilty.
The process is so broken that the budget for fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019, as laid out in the Bipartisan Budget Act, included the creation of the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform to address the budget and appropriations process. Unfortunately, even the committee was unable to produce an agreeable bipartisan package of recommendations to solve these unnecessary manufactured crises.
Although the committee failed, the good news is there are a couple of legislative solutions to the problem. Republican senators Rand Paul and Rob Portman recently introduced separate bills that would allow for an automatic continuing resolution in the event of a lapse in funding for departments and programs due to a budget impasse. Both bills would allow for a 1 percent cut in spending in the absence of an appropriations bill, while keeping the federal government open until a deal is reached.
The Government Shutdown Prevention Act, introduced by Paul, would automatically trigger a continuing resolution for any appropriations bill not completed before the beginning of a fiscal year every October. The catch, which fiscal conservatives and libertarians will consider a key feature of the legislation, is that the automatic continuing resolution would require a 1 percent spending cut and another 1 percent spending cut every 90 days that an appropriations bill has not been completed.
“No matter where one stands on the debate over government spending, we should all be able to agree that Congress needs to handle Americans’ money thoughtfully and hit its deadlines,” Paul said in a press release. “The Government Shutdown Prevention Act would take a major step forward toward bringing basic fiscal responsibility to Capitol Hill.”
Similarly, the End Government Shutdowns Act, introduced by Portman, would also provide for an automatic continuing resolution for any funding bill not completed by October. The key difference between the two bills is that Portman proposes a 1 percent spending cut after 120 days if a deal has not been reached, followed by an additional 1 percent spending cut every 90 days if Congress has not been able to get its act together.
“We should end government shutdowns for good,” Portman said. “This legislation will accomplish that goal, providing lawmakers with more time to reach a responsible resolution to budget negotiations, giving federal workers and their families more stability, ensuring we avoid disruptions that ultimately hurt our economy, taxpayers and working families.”
Republican senator Mike Lee, who cosponsored both bills, explained, “Shutdowns are not a responsible way to govern. They create instability and unpredictability not only in our government, but also for the many families and businesses that interact with the federal government.”
With a divided government, Congress cannot afford to let its dysfunction create more instability. The Government Shutdown Prevention Act and the End Government Shutdowns Act are real solutions that should be brought to the floor of the Senate for consideration rather than Republicans and Democrats in Congress failing to get one of their most basic jobs done over a policy disagreement. The cycle of uncertainty has to end, and these two bills would ensure stability until Congress finally does its job.