The existing political landscape in Washington stands as a symbol of dysfunction. Despite the installation of a new Speaker of the House, Congress faces a convoluted path in passing regular appropriation bills, the border situation remains turbulent, and the looming specter of a government shutdown persists.
The Senate had a unique opportunity to replace the detrimental practices of government shutdowns with effective, solution-oriented budgeting – precisely what the American people demand and require from their representatives in Congress. Regrettably, Montana Sen. Jon Tester cast his vote against a bipartisan amendment intended to rectify this situation. His vote perpetuates the risk of shutdowns, leading to hasty passage of an inflated omnibus spending bill just before Christmas, with minimal input from most members and the potential for disrupted services to the American public.
It seems that every fall, for at least the past 40 years, government shutdowns have dominated the discourse in Washington, D.C. Although government funding gaps predate this period, they did not typically result in government shutdowns. Presently, shutdowns have occurred under various combinations of Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses. Unfortunately, despite narrowly avoiding a government shutdown just last month, we just faced the threat of another.
In a scenario where both parties share blame for triggering government shutdowns and the public bears the brunt of the consequences, a bipartisan solution is the only way to break free from this irrational cycle. Fortunately, Senators James Lankford and Maggie Hassan, representing Oklahoma and New Hampshire, respectively, have joined forces to propose the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act.” This bill, supported by 18 bipartisan Senate members, seeks to automatically extend funding for 14-day intervals whenever government funding is at risk of lapsing. It maintains funding at the most recently approved level, and during these 14-day periods, Congress is mandated to remain in session to fulfill its responsibilities. Furthermore, Representatives and Senators are prohibited from using official or campaign funds for travel, except for essential trips back to the nation’s capital, within the capital region, or for reasons related to national security.
In addition, members of Congress would be compelled to stay on the job until appropriations bills are completed, with no recess or adjournment exceeding 23 hours. Any deviation from this rule would require a two-thirds vote from both the House and Senate, and that too, for a maximum of seven days. During the initial 30 days of a backup continuing resolution, no legislative business other than appropriation bills could be considered. If the backup continuing resolution extends beyond 30 days, no nominations could be considered, and a bipartisan group of six Senators – three from each party – could expedite action on any appropriations bill.
It’s worth noting that this bill is the very amendment that Tester voted against. The people of Montana deserve an explanation, particularly when similar measures have proven effective in states such as Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and North Carolina.
The threat of government shutdowns forces a false choice between all-encompassing spending bills, leading to concerns about excessive spending and rising debt levels. It has evolved into a high-stakes game where the only debate surrounding spending bills is a binary choice between approving the government shutdown or accepting an enormous spending bill. Unfortunately, this practice has led to the downfall of the last three Republican Speakers, as they increasingly approved oversized spending bills that excluded most members from the decision-making process.
Senators Lankford, Hassan, and their co-sponsors deserve commendation for offering a solution that shields Americans from the threat of shutdowns and replaces a reckless fiscal game with a rational and responsible approach to budgeting. While there are undoubtedly many other pressing issues within the federal budget, the widespread bipartisan support in the Senate and the House illustrates that senators and representatives are prepared to move away from the current shutdown politics and embrace a more effective alternative. The question that remains is why Tester is not inclined to support this change for the better.
Jesse Ramos is a former Missoula City Councilman and the state director for Americans for Prosperity
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