Congress should end government shutdowns

Posted 12/31/19

The holiday season is a special time of year, when we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the New Year, Festivus and, apparently, the approval of a massive spending package in …

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Congress should end government shutdowns


The holiday season is a special time of year, when we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the New Year, Festivus and, apparently, the approval of a massive spending package in Congress.

Leaders from both parties gave themselves plenty of congratulations this month after they overwhelmingly agreed on a colossal $1.4 trillion spending package.

“A lot of hard work brought this appropriations process back from the brink,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Of course, it took plenty of extras to make enough representatives and senators happy to pass the bill: $1.4 billion to build barriers between the U.S. and Mexico, $425 million to better secure our elections, a 3.1 percent pay increase for members of the military, funding to conduct the 2020 Census and $25 million for gun violence research.  (Another provision tucked away in the legislation raised the smoking age from 18 to 21.)

According to Politico, the bill raised federal budgets by a total of $49 billion.

Regardless of the merits of each project and appropriation, it’s difficult to applaud that kind of bump in spending — especially with our country already $23 trillion in debt.

There is something to be said about a divided Congress coming together to avoid a government shutdown, as shutdowns remain among the most maddening examples of federal waste.

However, just the threat of government operations coming to a halt led to a rushed process.

As NPR reported earlier this month, “Leaders released the more than 2,300-page agreement just a day before the House voted on the package, leaving many lawmakers scrambling to learn the details. Hours later, and before the House could vote, leaders also attached a $54 billion package of miscellaneous tax breaks to the bill.”

The fact is that decisions of this magnitude — involving an almost-inconceivable amount of taxpayer dollars — should not be made on the fly.

There is no silver bullet to fixing all that ails our federal government, but getting rid of government shutdowns would be a good first step. In theory, it sounds like a good idea: If Congress can’t reach an agreement on how to fund the government, then the whole thing will shut down, so, presumably, our lawmakers will be motivated to reach a reasonable compromise. But as this month’s spending package proves, these deadlines tend to instead involve last-minute deals in which everyone tries to get their pet projects funded.

And when a deal isn’t reached, the government shuts down, which is not only embarrassing, but wasteful. Federal employees are ordered to stay home until whenever Congress gets its act together. That frustrates and disrupts the lives of employees and should infuriate taxpayers, who literally wind up paying government workers to not work during a shutdown. And then there’s the impact that a shutdown has on businesses and citizens. Everyone loses.

For those reasons, we’re glad U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is among a group of bipartisan lawmakers who believe it’s time to stop this madness, co-sponsoring the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act.

Roughly paraphrased, the bill says that whenever spending runs out, appropriations would continue at their current levels. In the meantime, members of Congress, their staff and employees from the Office of Management and Budget would effectively be prevented from leaving the Washington, D.C., area until they’ve struck a deal.

“Government shutdowns do not benefit anyone and actually end up costing taxpayers more money,” Enzi said in a statement. “This legislation would help hold Congress accountable while avoiding irresponsible funding lapses. It is time to end unnecessary government shutdowns for good.”

This isn’t the first time that Sen. Enzi has supported such an effort — and calling for common sense Congressional reforms can feel like shouting into a vacuum (or bottomless hole of debt). But we hope Sen. Enzi and others continue pushing their colleagues to do the right thing.