The recent partial government shutdown that set a record for the longest shutdown ever (since the concept of a government shutdown came to be that is) has led to a number of bills being introduced in an effort to eliminate any future ones. Lawmakers seem to be in agreement that shutdowns are not good, but opinions vary as to how to prevent them as evidenced by a number of recently introduced bills that all claim they will eliminate shutdowns.
One of the latest such bills comes from Congressman Dan Kildee (D-MI).
The Ensure Washington Funds Government Responsibly Act (H.R. 1172) would make it so if Congress fails to fund the government on time, a short-term spending bill (continuing resolution) would automatically go into effect. In addition, paychecks issued during the shutdown for Members of Congress and the President would be withheld until both branches of government do their job and fund the government.
His bill is a blend of some others recently introduced that do some of the same things. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), for example, introduced a bill that would keep the government open but institute 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 recently introduced bill would withhold pay for Members of Congress and the president during shutdowns. It was introduced by Congressman Jared Golden (D-ME).
But Kildee’s bill combines parts of both ideas into one bill. He said the legislation would ensure that essential government functions (i.e. national security, defense) are able to operate and are funded at spending levels enacted previously, accounting for inflation. Additionally, he hopes that by placing their pay in escrow, an added incentive would be given to Congress and the President to work together quickly to do their job and pass a spending bill.
“The American people and our dedicated public servants should never be punished when Congress and the President fail to do their job and pass a spending bill,” Congressman Kildee said. “After the longest government shutdown in our nation’s history, I have heard from my constituents loud and clear—we cannot allow another government shutdown to ever happen again.”
Yet another bill introduced last week comes from Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA). The End Shutdowns Act (H.R. 1180) would fill any lapse in appropriations with an automatic continuing resolution, and then bar the House from considering further legislation other than mutually-agreed-upon emergencies, until Congress agrees on a government-funding measure. Beyer’s bill is companion legislation to a bill previously introduced in the Senate (S. 281) by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA).
For some additional recently introduced bills that propose ending shutdowns, see the links at the end of this article.
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?.