September marked yet another fraught period on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers engaged in acrimonious debate, negotiations and horse trading in the shadow of a deadline to pass a spending measure to keep the federal government open.
Although the threat of another government shutdown was averted, for now, with a bill to fund the government until Dec. 3 that Congress sent to President Biden’s desk with mere hours to spare, that hasn’t stopped lawmakers in both parties from introducing a flurry of bills aimed at ensuring government programs—and federal employees’ paychecks—continue to be delivered in the face of congressional dysfunction.
Last week, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., reintroduced a bill he last filed during the 35-day partial government shutdown that stretched from December 2018 through early 2019, the Stop STUPIDITY (Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The Coming Years) Act (S. 2892). Under his proposal, if a lapse in appropriations occurs, all federal agencies would continue to be funded as if there were a continuing resolution in place, except for Congress and the White House, which he said would encourage politicians to work toward an agreement without hurting federal employees, those who rely on federal programs, or the broader economy.
“Our nation’s federal workers have worked day-in and day-out during the pandemic to make sure that American families and businesses can count on the government in their time of need,” Warner said in a statement. “I can’t think of a worse way to repay these civil servants than by shutting down the government in the midst of an ongoing health and economic crisis. My legislation would spare federal workers form the volatility of government shutdowns and preserve the stability our government necessitates as we continue to fight COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, a group of eight Republican senators, led by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has introduced the End Government Shutdowns Act (S. 2760). That bill would similarly automatically approve spending for federal agencies at whatever level Congress backed in its last appropriations law or continuing resolution, but every 120 days without a deal, funding would be cut by 1 percentage point.
Perhaps the most novel piece of anti-shutdown legislation comes from a bipartisan coalition of 13 senators, led by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. The Prevent Shutdowns Act (S. 2727) would automatically approve the equivalent of a continuing resolution upon a lapse in appropriations in 14-day increments, while activating a strict set of rules for lawmakers, their staff, and the Office of Management and Budget.
Under their bill, travel funding for the White House and its staff, lawmakers, and committee and personal congressional staff, would be shut off during a lapse in appropriations. The bill would also bar lawmakers from using campaign funds to cover travel expenses.
Additionally, the bill would require lawmakers to stay in Washington, with daily attendance taken, including on weekends. And it would prevent congressional leadership from calling any votes that do not pertain to funding the government for the first 30 days of a lapse in appropriations. After 30 days, the Senate would be allowed to consider bills reauthorizing federal programs that are set to expire and executive branch nominations.
“Government shutdowns are costly and avoidable, and our bipartisan bill would help ensure that the government remains open until Congress can come together and agree on a spending bill,” Hassan said in a statement. “Our commonsense legislation will hold lawmakers accountable by requiring them to stay in Washington until they reach an agreement.”
“As our national debt climbs dangerously higher and Congress continues to ignore the tough spending decisions, forcing Congress to stay in D.C. until the budget work is done is the most effective way to get Congress to actually get the government funded on time,” Lankford said. “Shutdowns cost taxpayers dollars, hurt federal employees and their families, and threaten our national security . . . I will push to see serious consideration of our practical and commonsense solution to shut down the shutdowns.”
But if there is one thing that has become as predictable as the rapid introduction of bills aimed at preventing shutdowns automatically, it is that these bills rarely gain traction once the threat of a lapse in appropriations has passed.