Push in Congress to Permanently End Government Shutdowns

Another bill has been introduced with the intent of bringing a permanent end to government shutdowns.

Yet another bill has been introduced to end partial government shutdowns for good. This time it is being introduced in the Senate by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA).

The Stop STUPIDITY (Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The Coming Years) Act (S. 198) takes aim at the legislative branch and the White House; it would fund all aspects of the government except for the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President with the intent of forcing Congress and the White House to come to the negotiating table in the event of a political dispute arising.

The bill would prevent shutdowns by keeping the government open in the case of a lapse in funding by automatically renewing government funding at the same levels as the previous fiscal year, with adjustments for inflation.

“The Stop STUPIDITY Act takes the aggressive but necessary step of forcing the President and Congress to do the jobs they were elected to do,” said Sen. Warner. “It is disturbing that the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of workers are at the mercy of dysfunction in Washington. Workers, business owners and tax payers are currently paying the price of D.C. gridlock and my legislation will put an end to that.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) also has recently called for finding a way to end government shutdowns. He said at a recent news conference, “Now that the shutdown is over, we should roll up our sleeves and make sure it [a government shutdown] never happens again.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that he is open to a bill that would end shutdowns.

“I don’t like shutdowns. I don’t think they work for anybody and I hope they will be avoided. I’d be open to anything that we could agree on on a bipartisan basis that would make them pretty hard to occur again,” McConnell recently told reporters.

Other Bills Aimed at Stopping Shutdowns

Other bills have been introduced in the latest session of Congress with the intent of eliminating future shutdowns.

Another introduced this week is known as the Shutdown to End All Shutdowns (SEAS) Act (H.R. 834). Introduced by Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), the bill would allow the government to continue operating under an automatic continuing resolution for as long as Congress and the President fail to agree on an appropriations measure.

It would also prohibit the use of federal funds for lawmakers’ travel, require daily quorum calls for the duration of a federal government shutdown, and suspend lawmakers’ pay and not hold it in escrow, as it is under current law.

It would also prohibit the use of federal funds for Executive Branch and Cabinet, except by waiver in cases of national security, natural disaster or national emergency, and the use of federal funds would also be prohibited for Executive Branch bonuses, receptions, entertainment, exercise facilities and golf courses during a shutdown.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) reintroduced a bill that he has put forth in the past that would take a different approach from Warner’s. Paul’s bill would keep the government open but  a one percent cut to then-current funding levels for any agency, program, and activity that Congress failed to fund by the start of the fiscal year (October 1). Funding would be reduced by another one percent every 90 days thereafter that an agreement is still not enacted.

And another bill recently introduced in the Senate by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is similar in approach to Paul’s bill. It would create an automatic continuing resolution (CR) for any regular appropriations bill or existing CR not completed by the October 1 deadline. After the first 120 days, CR funding will be reduced by one percent and would be reduced by one percent again every 90 days thereafter until Congress does its job and completes the annual appropriations process.

Why Does the Government “Shut Down?”

The notion of a government “shutdown” is a new one and did not even happen prior to 1980 but has evolved into a useful political weapon for politicians. Both parties spar over some issue and threaten to withhold funding for agencies, hoping the other side will cave.

Prior to 1980, there were occasions when money had not been appropriated, but federal employees still went to work, still got paid (usually a little late until funds were approved) and the situation was resolved without all the political drama we currently enjoy under the modern concept of a shutdown.

As FedSmith author Ralph Smith noted in a previous article, Benjamin Civiletti., the attorney general under President Jimmy Carter, is credited for inventing the concept of the modern shutdown. It is based on an interpretation of an 1870 law. For details, see Who Invented Government Shutdowns?.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.