Legislation Reintroduced to Prevent Government Shutdowns

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By on December 11, 2019 in Current Events with 0 Comments

As the possibility of another Christmas government shutdown looms over Congress, two Senators have reintroduced legislation this week that would prevent them from happening in the future.

Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) are introducing an updated version of the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act (S. 3009). The bill would would set up an automatic Continuing Resolution (CR) at the current spending level until an agreement on funding is enacted and force Congress to stay in Washington until an agreement was reached.

The bill also places a great deal of restrictions on official travel in the event of a partial government shutdown. It also contains the following provisions:

  • Implementation of an automatic CR on October 1 at last year’s spending levels until the passage of a law to appropriate all remaining lapsed spending for that fiscal year
  • Bans official travel for Office of Management and Budget (OMB) leadership or staff and Members of Congress along with their committee and personal staff
  • No taxpayer-funded travel allowances for official business (except one return flight to Washington, DC) 
  • No CODEL or STAFFDEL travel
  • No travel reimbursement (meals, per diem, or any type, including for state and district staff)
  • No use of campaign funds by congressional offices to supplement official duties or travel expenses
  • Expedited consideration of bipartisan appropriations bills is provided for after 30 days to ensure that each chamber is further incentivized to process spending bills and fund the government
  • No motions to recess or adjourn the Senate or House are in order for more than 23 hours 
  • A required recorded quorum call vote is required each day at noon in the House and Senate to confirm attendance, which keeps Members in town for mandatory votes
  • No other matter can be considered on the floor of the Senate unless it relates to: 
    • General appropriations measures (including a CR);
    • Daily mandatory quorum calls; 
    • After 30 days, certain expiring authorization bills and executive calendar nominations would be eligible for consideration on the Senate floor. These include a nomination for a Justice of the Supreme Court or Cabinet Secretary; Reauthorization legislation for programs operating under an authorization which expired 60 days after the beginning of the fiscal year or less. 
    • Floor restrictions in the House or Senate can be waived if a two-thirds majority vote threshold is achieved in each Chamber
  • The bill has an effective date of September 30, 2020.

The Senators say that the bill will offer protection to federal employees in the event of a partial government shutdown in the future. In speaking about the bill, Lankford shared a story in a speech on the Senate floor about a federal employee (see the video above). He said:

This past week when I was flying up back to DC, back from home, on the plane as I was coming up, there was a federal employee that caught me in the aisle way of the plane and just said, ‘Hey, I hear you’re working on stopping government shutdowns. Thank you.’

Her next comment surprised me, though. She said she’s worked for a federal agency for years, that she’s retiring in January because she is so tired of constantly having to prep for, prepare for, get set for a government shutdown that may be pending in the days ahead. It’s worn her out. And someone who has great wisdom and experience in serving in one of our federal agencies is retiring in January and we’ll lose those years of experience because she’s tired of dealing with shutdowns.

I don’t blame her, quite frankly, though I wish she wouldn’t leave. I don’t blame her because year after year we end up in this same conversation, ‘Are we going to have another shutdown?’

Lankford added:

All of us know this is bad, but for years we’ve discussed ending government shutdowns but never done it. Senator Hassan and I have put together a nonpartisan bill that is a very straightforward approach that we bring to this body and to the House to say, ‘Let’s take government shutdowns off the table forever.’ Let’s make this so in the decades ahead we talk about the way-back days long ago when we used to have government shutdowns, as we have in this body now. We’ve had 21 government shutdowns in the last 40 years. Let’s talk about the days that used to happen that never happens again.

Why Does the Government “Shut Down?”

Government shutdowns are a relatively new concept and something that used to not occur, but they came about in 1980 thanks to a man named Benjamin Civiletti.

Civiletti was the attorney general under President Jimmy Carter and is credited for inventing the concept of the modern shutdown based on an interpretation of an 1870 law.

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. For details, see Who Invented Government Shutdowns?.

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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