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If the government shuts down, it can’t spend appropriated money, and many activities stop. At surface level this may seem like a great way to block big government.
However, shutdown politics actually cost the American people far more in the long run.
Here’s how Washington’s crisis-to-crisis governing hurts us all and the measures we need to take to get America back on track — including passing the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act.
The effects of a government shutdown are both immediate and long-term. During a shutdown, uncertainty reigns. This uncertainty not only disrupts federal services but also undermines prosperity for everyday Americans.
The focus on avoiding a government shutdown also draws Congress’ attention away from other issues that truly matter, such as slashing red tape, reducing inflation, and growing the American economy to create better and higher paying jobs.
Inevitably, panic ensues in Congress as looming holiday deadlines force politicians to make rash decisions in order to reopen the government or to keep it open.
During the Bush-Obama-Trump-Biden presidencies, “ad hoc” (make up as you go) continuing resolutions (CRs) have covered an average 152 days of the 365-day fiscal year. That’s 41.6% of days in the FY. Sure, it’s better than a shutdown, but it’s not good.
— Kurt Couchman (@KurtCouchman) October 12, 2023
Instead of passing thoughtful budget legislation that involves most members of Congress, leaders hastily push bloated omnibus bills through the House and Senate.
These bills are written behind closed doors by only a few congressional leaders and the White House, and are brimming with wasteful spending to placate interest groups rather than meet the needs of the American people.
Many members of Congress don’t vote for the omnibus because they think it’s better than current policy. In fact, the omnibus gets passed before anyone has time to read it.
Instead, Congressmen vote for it merely because it’s better than the alternative — a government shutdown.
Trying to leverage government shutdowns to create meaningful change in Washington simply doesn’t work. In fact, keeping shutdowns from being possible would do more to end the cycle of Washington’s runaway spending and crushing debt.
The Prevent Government Shutdown Act, (S. 135/H.R. 5696), proposed by Senators James Lankford and Maggie Hassan and Representatives Jodey Arrington and Jimmy Panetta, would mean that members of Congress would have more ability to challenge wasteful spending and ensure that our country’s spending bills are passed on merit, rather than to sidestep a crisis.
Here’s how it works:
1. Extend current funding levels
As things currently stand, when the clock strikes midnight on November 17th, the lights will go out on many activities of the American government.
This disruption to expected services is harmful to the American people while distracting to members of Congress. It is also avoidable through automatic continuing appropriations (“auto CR”).
An auto CR would keep government operations funded at the level of the prior year’s appropriations even without Congress and the president enacting new legislation.
Using auto CR is a straightforward way to avoid the panic of a government shutdown and avoid the inevitable overspending that comes with passing a bloated omnibus.
2. Keep Congress in session until new spending bills (“appropriations”) become law
An auto CR is a backstop that promotes a more bottom-up process involving many more members of Congress. Updating spending levels as the country’s needs change would give Congress strong reasons to pass new appropriations bills.
Yet the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act would do even more to make Congress accountable to take next steps in funding the government. It would also require Congress to stay in session every day and without being easily able to consider other legislation until all appropriations bills become law.
This ensures all congressmen are involved in the budgetary process, are given time to read through appropriations, and pass economic policy that is best for the American people rather than rushing to pass a bloated backroom bill before a holiday deadline.
3. Auto CRs bring lasting economic change through healthier budgeting
The federal government effectively had an auto CR in place for 191 years until the Carter Administration created shutdowns with a Department of Justice memo.
In addition, comprehensive auto CRs in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and partial auto CRs in 18 other states clearly show that they promote a more deliberative legislature, empower the legislature compared to governors, and produce modest spending restraint. These states also have a far better record than Congress of passing spending legislation on time.
The auto CRs in these states have proven to be an effective way to promote positive economic change without threatening a harmful government shutdown.
In North Carolina, an auto CR helped members of the General Assembly block Medicaid expansion for a decade. In 2023, it helped them get pro-growth tax cuts and universal educational freedom, even with a progressive governor.
Auto CRs at the federal level would be a step forward and would be an important part of an agenda to repair federal budgeting. Auto CRs support an inclusive process for developing policy, increase member engagement, reduce disruptions and waste from shutdowns, and promote timely appropriations.
Reach out to Congress and let them know you want to be part of the solution to bring an end to government shutdowns and forge a better way forward for the American people.
Letting Congress know about the importance of passing the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act to establish auto CRs couldn’t be easier.
Sign the letter here.
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