Legislation Reintroduced to End Government Shutdowns

Legislation has been reintroduced to eliminate government shutdowns, something which the bill’s sponsor warns could happen again soon.

Senator James Lankford (R-OK) has again introduced legislation that he says would put an end to the phenomenon of government shutdowns.

The Prevent Government Shutdowns Act (S. 2727) would do two key things to stop partial government shutdowns:

  1. Upon reaching the end of a funding period for the government (typically the end of the fiscal year on September 30), an automatic continuing resolution would kick to ensure there is no government shutdown.
  2. Congress would be required to stay in session until all 12 appropriations bills are completed.

So why introduce the bill now?

Lankford warns that there is a possibility of another government shutdown at the end of the month as the government draws closer to the end of its fiscal year, and he doesn’t want to see another partial shutdown take place.

“… we should have already passed 12 appropriations bills out of this body [Senate], 12 appropriations bills out of the House, have conferenced those 12 bills, sent it to the White House for signature,” said Lankford. “The problem with that is, the Senate has not passed a single one of those appropriations bills—not one. So our government’s not funded two weeks from now, which means the countdown clock will begin again towards when we’re headed toward another government shutdown, and the conversation will be, ‘Are we going to have another government shutdown? Are we going to be open? What’s going to happen to federal workers?’”

Lankford’s bill was last introduced in December of 2019 during a time which the threat of a shutdown was looming.

Why Are There Government Shutdowns?

Government shutdowns 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 partial government shutdown based on an interpretation of an 1870 law.

Prior to that time, 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 see in force today when the government “shuts down.” For details, see Why Does the Government Shut Down in the United States.

Remarks from Lankford About the Bill

Senator Lankford made the following remarks about why he wants to see this legislation enacted by Congress:

Two weeks from now we will hit the end of the fiscal year. At the end of the fiscal year, according to the Budget Act of 1974, we should have already passed 12 appropriations bills out of this body, 12 appropriations bills out of the House, have conferenced those 12 bills, sent it to the White House for signature. That’s the instructions that should be done by the end of the fiscal year. The problem with that is, the Senate has not passed a single one of those appropriations bills—not one. So our government’s not funded two weeks from now, which means the countdown clock will begin again towards when we’re headed toward another government shutdown, and the conversation will be, ‘Are we going to have another government shutdown? Are we going to be open? What’s going to happen to federal workers?’

Agencies across Washington, DC, and across the country will get instructions for ‘Here’s what to do in case of a shut down in your agency. Here’s which employees will be nonessential, what needs to happen to them, essential, what needs to happen to them.’… We will not have appropriations bills done two weeks from now. It’s not going to happen. So here are the alternatives: there will be what’s called a short-term continuing resolution of some length, or we’ll have a shutdown two weeks from now.

For the past three years Senator Maggie Hassan and I have proposed a very straightforward solution to end the threat of government shutdowns. Our straightforward proposal to stop government shutdowns is a simple way to be able to solve this issue. If we get to the end of the fiscal year, September the 30th midnight, and we have not finished the work that needs to be done on those 12 appropriations bills, automatically a continuing resolution will kick in to prevent a government shutdown, but starting the very next day, October the 1st, the Senate and the House have mandatory quorum calls every single day until we finish the 12 appropriations bills.

We stay here to be able to finish our work, but the work has to be done. Why is that important? Because federal agencies shouldn’t constantly be worried about another government shutdown, and the American people should be able to interact with their own government. All of us know the government actually doesn’t shutdown, but it moves into shutdown mode. Some people have to show up for work. Some people do not. But everyone’s paid. Some people can get access to a permit when they contact their federal agency. Some people cannot. Some people can get licensing. Some people cannot. Some people can work through the process with the Corps of Engineers. Some people cannot. And this chaos for the American people and for people who work for the federal workforce, happens all over the country simply because Congress did not get its job done.

Well, the solution is simple. Hold the American people and the federal workers harmless and push Members of Congress to actually finish the work. This is not a partisan solution. It’s just a solution. That’s why Republicans and Democrats alike have agreed to the simple solution that Maggie Hassan and I have to be able to end government shutdowns. And to say, ‘Let’s continue the conversation that needs to be done, but let’s not have yet another shutdown.’ 

In the past 40 years we have had 21 government shutdowns—21. The last one needs to be our last. But I don’t know if it will be because two weeks from now we’re headed to the end of the fiscal year, and there is no solution on the table for how to avoid a government shutdown again.

Senator Hassan and I and multiple others again filed our bill today and said, ‘We know how to stop government shutdowns. Keep us at work. Hold the American people harmless, and let’s get the task done.’

Honestly, I’ve had people say, ‘That’s such a creative solution, and it’s such a simple process to get done.’ I’ve smiled at them and said, ‘Actually it’s not all that creative. It’s the same thing that my mom did when my brother and I were growing up at the house.’ When my brother and I were in an argument she would put the two of us in our room and say, ‘You guys work it out. When you work it out, then you can come out of the room.’

It’s really no different than that, to say Members of Congress should stay at the task until we solve the budget work, and we should not leave with the budget work undone. And leave the American people experiencing another government shutdown. Let’s not have shutdown 22. Let’s end government shutdowns, and let’s get our actual budget work done on time as is expected by the American people.

About the Author

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