Why Are Government Shutdowns Allowed At All?
Two weeks ago today we asked this question:
If Congress can’t vote through a budget that the President will sign, instead of shutting down the government, can’t Congress make it so whatever budget was in place previously just continues until they figure it out?
Well, some members of Congress have been asking — and answering — that same question themselves. And the answer seems to be “yes”. Or at least “maybe”.
So far, two bills have been introduced that would prohibit future government shutdowns: one by Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, called the End Government Shutdowns Act, the other by Democratic Senator Mark Warner from Virginia, with a colorful acronym: the Stop STUPIDITY (Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The Coming Years) Act.
The big difference in the two bills:
- Warner’s bill would maintain funding for all of the federal government at the previous budget’s levels, except for people in Congress and the President’s office. Their paychecks would be cut off.
- Portman’s bill would also automatically renew funding at the previous year’s levels if a budget agreement isn’t reached, except that after a period of time, government funding would start ticking down, presumably to put pressure on Congress and the President to come up with something and not just get caught up in endless gridlock. So after 4 months, federal spending would tick down 1% across the board (which would probably result in some furloughs); after another 3 months spending would tick down another 1%. So in a way, it could end up being like a shutdown, just very slow-moving.
The Dayton Daily News points out that Senator Portman has introduced that same bill “every Congress” and “it goes nowhere”. Are circumstances different enough this time that it can gain some momentum? So far, Portman’s proposal has gotten 18 co-sponsors, all Republicans. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has come out strongly in favor of the concept, so perhaps a version blended with the Democrats’ proposal might be possible.
That’s if Trump will sign it. (At a rare White House briefing, spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the Portman proposal point blank; she said she hadn’t seen it.) It seems to us that we’ve been down the shutdown road enough times now to know they don’t work, and almost always reflect negatively on whomever actually instigated the shutdown. In some ways it seems like that reality alone should be enough to warn future politicians off. But Trump keeps threatening a new shutdown if Congress doesn’t deliver a border security agreement by the time their 3-week budget continuation wears out. We think that’s just pressure tactics, at least at this stage in the game. But maybe the President still believes in the salutatory benefits of a “good shutdown” as he Tweeted way back when.
More simply, the President could argue both bills would dis-incentivize Members of Congress from doing their jobs. And that’d probably be right, too. It’d also dis-incentivize the President from compromise, since disputes could drag on forever, or at least much longer.
Still, it would take the burden of dysfunctional government off the shoulders of federal workers and contractors and no longer allow them to be used as pawns.
Either way, it’s not likely either proposal out there, if they do proceed, will proceed as a stand-alone bill. The best bet at success would be wrapping it into a future broad budget measure. We’re not holding our breath…
Another great idea for a bill that will almost certainly never pass or even get a vote was introduced Monday. And this one’s bipartisan! Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, and Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal are co-sponsoring legislation that would mandate Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report be released to the public whenever it’s completed, or in whatever shape it’s in were Mueller to be fired before completing his work. This is important because Trump’s nominee for Attorney General Robert Barr, refused to commit to releasing the full report, only to having a “goal…to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law”, which might be enough to provide enough of a wall for certain people to hide behind, should they need to.
However, since Grassley is no longer Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee (he gave it over to Lindsey Graham this session and took the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee instead), it’s very unlikely the bill will even get a vote in committee, much less the full Senate. Grassley did support a vote last year on a separate bill that would’ve protected Mueller if Trump attempted to fire him. That bill passed in committee, but then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote, saying it was unnecessary.